Probably the most damaging external impediment to a lawyer’s ability to render effective assistance to a client may come from the interference by the trial judge in counsel’s advocacy. A judge supervises the conduct of a trial but he is more than a mere umpire or moderator. A trial judge, by his rulings, questions, and comments, has an enormous capacity to affect the merits of a party’s case and thereby influence the verdict of the jury. To be sure, the basic requirement of a trial judge, both legally and ethically, is to be impartial in demeanor as well as in actions. However, some judges deviate from this precept of neutrality, and through inadvertence or willfulness, engage in conduct that subverts a lawyer’s ability to effectively defend his client. A judge has broad discretion to administer a trial and supervise the flow of the evidence and the conduct of the attorneys. However, this broad discretion does not authorize a judge to improperly impede defense counsel’s representation in ways that destroy a defendant’s right to a fair trial and the effective assistance of his attorney. When a trial judge improperly interferes with counsel’s representation, to the extent that the defendant suffers substantial prejudice, an appellate court may conclude that a defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel has been violated and the conviction will be reversed.
Recommended CitationBennett L. Gershman, Judicial Interference with Effective Assistance of Counsel, 31 Pace L. Rev. 560 (2011)
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