Rippo v. Baker: Test for Disqualification of Judge is Whether Average Judge in Situation would Likely be Neutral; Showing of Actual, Subjective Bias Not Required
A defendant who seeks to disqualify a judge for bias need only show that, as an objective matter, the average judge in the situation would not likely be neutral and the risk of bias is high, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled March 6.
In Rippo v. Baker, the Court reiterated that proof of actual, subjective bias is not required.
Michael Rippo sought to disqualify a judge from his criminal trial who was the target of a bribery probe by the Prosecutor’s Office which was prosecuting Rippo.
Rippo contended that, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a judge could not impartially adjudicate a case in which one of the parties was criminally investigating the judge.
The Nevada Supreme Court denied relief on grounds that Rippo had not shown the trial judge was “actually biased” in his case.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, in a brief per curiam opinion.
The Nevada Supreme Court “applied the wrong legal standard,” the Court held. Due process may require recusal even when a judge has no actual bias.
The test is “not whether a judge harbors an actual, subjective bias, but instead whether, as an objective matter, the average judge in his position is likely to be neutral, or whether there is an unconstitutional potential for bias,” the Court said. A court must consider “whether, considering all the circumstances alleged, the risk of bias [is] too high to be constitutionally tolerable.”