Judging 101: Refrain From Pronouncing Guilt Before End of Trial

Perhaps the most basic requirement of a judge (beyond remaining full clothed during deliberations) is not to pronounced guilt until after the trial. It is a rule that Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller allegedly forgot by telling a reporter that Brian Nichols, accused of killing four people in a 2005 shooting spree that began at the Fulton County Courthouse, was clearly guilty. While denying the comment, Fuller has removed himself from the case.

The alleged violation by Hilton is all the more troubling because Nichols is accused of shooting another judge and all of the judges in Fulton County had recused themselves.

Nichols insists that any statement that he made was expressly “on background” and not for quotation. However, the question remains why he was speaking to the media at all.

The case is already in total disarray. The public defender’s office cut off funding to Fuller’s lawyers due to a shortfall in its budget. The defense had already cost the county $1.8 million when the funding issue was raised in June. This has in term led to a confrontation with the legislature. Given the fact that the death penalty hangs in the balance, it is not a proud moment for the state bar.

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One thought on “Judging 101: Refrain From Pronouncing Guilt Before End of Trial”

  1. Agree, no matter what a judge’s personal feelings are concerning a criminal defendant’s guilt or innocence, that judge needs to keep his or mouth shut during all stages of the trial, including during jury deliberations. Unfortunately, some judges either forget some of their Canons of Ethics or just ignore the Canons altogether, assuming they don’t apply. Too many judges are guilty of ethics violations, judicial misconduct or both, and yet they still get away with it.

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