A Pennsylvania Death Sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court when a Judge Failed to Recuse Himself.
The United States Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-3 vote, that Terrence Williams’s capital conviction must be overturned because one of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices hearing a stay of execution in his case was the prosecutor who prosecuted his case at the time of his orginal conviction. ([b].)
At the time Williams was convicted, the lead prosecutor in Philadelphia was Ronald Castille. Castille later went on to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which heard and then denied a stay of execution on, among other grounds, prosecutorial misconduct. Shockingly, when the defense asked then Justice Castille to recuse himself, he denied the request. Williams’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week.
This is the first time that the USSC has ruled that judges MUST recuse themselves from cases from which they have had a significant role. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “[b]ias is easy to attribute to others and difficult to discern in oneself.”
Additionally, the Court declared “an unconstitutional potential for bias exists when the same person serves as both accuser and adjudicator.”
Williams’s case will now be sent back to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for a new sentencing hearing.
Contact our Greensboro criminal defense attorneys, who operate in Greensboro, High Point and Randolph County for a free consultation today.