Legal Ethics

New Trial Due to Judge's Plea Comment

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A federal judge who suggested that he might sentence a defendant to even less time than the prosecution was offering in a plea bargain had good intentions but made a big mistake, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The judge’s interference with the plea bargaining process requires a new trial for Kenneth C. Baker, 44, the appellate court decided last week. Baker, an investment consultant, refused a prosecution offer of 21 to 27 months in prison if he pled guilty to scheming to steal an elderly woman’s life savings of $96,000, after hearing the judge say that he had imposed a one-year sentence in a comparable case, reports the Washington Times.

Although Judge Emmett G. Sullivan later repeatedly said that he was making no promises, “the damage was done,” writes Judge Janice Rogers Brown Brown in the appellate panel’s opinion. “Baker had already forgone the government’s offer, because he perceived the court had tacitly made him a better one.” At sentencing, Sullivan imposed a 41-month sentence on Baker, followed by another 10 months on a related charge.

The appellate court remanded Baker’s case to a different judge for a new trial. (Hat tip to Federal Criminal Appeal Blog.)

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