U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly appears to be pushing the limits of judicial notice this week. Kennelly found a defendant guilty after dressing up like a nun to see if her theory held water about determining the race of a bank robber in such an outfit.
Navahcia Edwards, 25, was accused of robbing a bank wearing the nun outfit below. She purchased the masks online after she and her boyfriend reportedly watched the movie “The Town.”
Her defense claimed that the May 2011 robbery of Palos Heights bank was carried out by a white robber, not an African-American. Defense attorney Charles Aron insisted that Edwards (who is African-American) had a fiance, Lyndon Wesley, who robbed the bank with a white accomplice who blackened her face. However, Kennelly decided to pull a Sally Field and dress like a nun in chambers. He promptly reported that he could see the white skin when he looked in a mirror and therefore rejected what he described as Edwards’ “reverse Al Jolson argument.”
A judge doing this type of independent, ex parte investigation is troubling. This is not akin to taking judicial notice that it rained on the day in question. Here the judge is reaching a decision after conducting his own investigatory experiments. What is astonishing is that the case itself has a strong record for conviction and Kennelly weakened it by his own bizarre experimentation. While the appellate court can still find “harmless error” in light of the other evidence in the case, this is not an appropriate function for a judge in a criminal trial in my view.
What do you think?
Source: SF Gate