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Is Facebook friendship grounds for a judge's recusal? - Part I

It is important for Wisconsin judges to remain impartial and fair, particularly in criminal cases. For instance, if the judge is friends with a defendant who has been charged with DUI, that connection might unfairly influence the judge's ruling.

In these situations, judges (or prosecutors) will often recuse themselves from the case. But in the age of social media, how strong does a friendship have to be? Is a Facebook "friendship" a strong enough link to warrant recusal?

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office seems to think so. They believe that this connection between the judge and defendant "both creates an appearance of impropriety and undermines public confidence in the judiciary."

The defendant is a state representative who was charged with DUI after a traffic stop in late April. The arresting officers said they were prompted to make the stop after they noticed the woman driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

A breathalyzer test revealed that the defendant had a BAC of 0.16 percent. However, the judge noted inconsistencies in the evidence provided by the arresting officers and ultimately determined that they did not have sufficient probable cause to make the stop in the first place.

Therefore, he decided to suppress the evidence against the defendant. Without this evidence, it would be very difficult for the prosecution to successfully try the case.

But the judge's suppression of evidence may not be the end of the story. The state Attorney General's Office would like the judge to reverse his decision and recuse himself from the case, citing his Facebook friendship with the defendant.

Check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: Philly.com, "Judge, defendant Facebook friends; Pa. seeks reversal," Tony Graham, Nov. 16, 2011

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