On April 26, 2010, a Colorado Judge was reversed on appeal after he improperly pressured a defendant into a plea bargain by threatening him with a lengthy sentence if the defendant chose to go to trial.
By stepping out of his role as “a neutral and impartial arbiter of justice” and becoming involved in plea negotiations in a criminal case, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the defendant would be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
James M. Crumb, Jr. was charged with criminal impersonation and multiple felony theft and habitual criminal counts; if convicted of all charges he would have faced a 192-year prison sentence. At the last pretrial conference before Crumb’s trial was to begin, Denver County District Judge Robert McGahey, Jr. told him it was his final opportunity to take a plea deal.
After telling the defendant he was speaking “more as a human being than as a judge,” McGahey said he would be forced to impose the maximum sentence if Crumb were convicted at trial, but that he would have sentencing discretion if Crumb pleaded guilty. McGahey later said he was “not going to be a happy judge” if no plea deal was reached.
Crumb moved to withdraw his guilty plea 49 days later, arguing he felt pressured into it. McGahey denied the motion.
The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision.
“These improper comments appear to have influenced the defendant’s decision to reconsider his earlier rejection of the offered plea and his ultimate decision to plead guilty,” Justice Michael Bender wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion. “To allow this guilty plea to stand would run counter to the fair and impartial administration of justice.” (from Law Week Colorado).
H. Michael’s Take:
My take on this case is simple, this particular judge went too far in his involvement in plea negotiations. Colorado law provides that judges can be involved in plea negotiations to the extent that a proposed plea can be “run” by the judge to determine if the judge would accept the plea bargain proposed. Acting in that capacity, a judge properly advises the parties whether they are wasting their time by attempting to enter into an agreement before placing the agreement on the record in open court. In this case, the judge took his role in this process a little too far.. H
To understand more about the concept of plea bargaining and how it works – please go to my website and read the following page…