Judicial No-No: Defendants are entitled to be resentenced by a different judge where trial judge warned them that “there will be jail time” if they rejected the government’s plea offer and went to trial.

Lindsay & Davis v. United States, Nos. 12-CM-1211 and 12-CM-1336
(decided Jan. 30, 2014)

Players: Fisher, Blackburne-Rigsby, King. Opinion by Judge Fisher. Joel R. Davidson for Ms. Lindsay. David Carey Woll for Mr. Davis. Trial judge: Brian Holeman.

Facts: Ms. Lindsay, Mr. Davis, and a third (ultimately acquitted) co-defendant were charged with simple assault. At a status hearing, the co-defendant announced that she was rejecting the government’s plea offer of a deferred sentencing agreement. The trial judge then warned all three defendants that, if they were to reject the plea offer, go to trial, and be convicted of simple assault, “there really isn’t a question of whether there will be jail time because there will be” and that the only question will be “how much,” so they would be taking a “risk” in rejecting the plea offer (slip op. 3). Despite this admonition, all three defendants rejected the government’s plea offers and went to trial. After finding Ms. Lindsay and Mr. Davis guilty, the judge sentenced them both to a period of incarceration. On appeal, the appellants requested resentencing by a different judge.

Held: The trial judge’s statements “raise at least three fundamental concerns” (slip op. 5). First, “they could be perceived as judicial participation in plea negotiations” in violation of Criminal Rule 11 (slip op. 5). Second, they created an “unacceptable risk” that appellants were punished for exercising their Sixth Amendment right to go to trial (slip op. 6). And third, it appeared that the trial judge “automatically incarcerated appellants according to a uniform policy,” which is an abuse of discretion under Houston v. United States, 592 A.2d 1066, 1068 (D.C. 1991), and other cases (slip op. 7). In light of these issues, appellants were entitled to resentencing by a different judge.

Of note:

  • This is one of several recent cases in which the DCCA has found that a trial judge abused his or her discretion by appearing to employ a “uniform policy” rather than exercising individualized judgment about a discretionary decision.See Leander v. United States, 65 A.3d 672, 676-77 (D.C. 2013); Barbett v. United States, 54 A.3d 1241, 1246 (D.C. 2012).
  • It is also the second case in recent years in which the DCCA has ordered resentencing by a different judge where it appeared that the original sentencing judge gave the defendant a harsher sentence as punishment for exercising a constitutional right.See Thorne v. United States, 46 A.3d 1085 (D.C. 2012).CM.
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