One of the most important and essential principles of the American judicial system is for a defendant to be tried by an impartial judge and/or panel of jurors who have no individual interest in the outcome of that trial. In Texas, jurors can be disqualified from jury selection by the prosecutor or criminal defense attorney during the voir dire process if that potential juror has any interest in or bias against the defendant.

In the case of judges, the removal process is not as simple, as it relies upon the judge to excuse him or herself from the case being presented. Judges who recognize that their impartiality in a case is compromised will customarily request to be removed. The state of Texas upholds the rules of judicial recusal and disqualification when a party feels it is necessary to protect the neutrality of a case and files a motion for recusal.

What Is Judicial Recusal?

The reasons for recusal are based on the rules found in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Judicial recusal is a motion filed by parties involved with a legal case, requesting removal of a judge from that case for various qualified reasons. A request for judicial recusal must show that the presiding judge either has a direct financial, personal, or familial connection with a party involved in the case being heard.  An additional reason for recusal would be evidence presented that shows the presiding judge is obviously prejudiced against one of the involved parties and would be unable to render an impartial decision.

Detailed reasons for recusal may include prior knowledge of a case from outside the courtroom, a personal or financial interest in the case’s outcome, a personal relationship with someone involved in the case, prior representation of the defendant as a criminal defense lawyer, and other reasons that could hinder a fair and impartial trial. Recusal can be waived if a motion is not filed in a timely manner, which is within 10 days of a trial setting or any hearing.

What Is Judicial Disqualification?

Although frequently confused with judicial recusal, judicial disqualification is not the same. A motion to disqualify can happen at any time during a case if it becomes evident that the judge should be disqualified and is normally an issue raised by an involved attorney. Reasons for disqualification include those mentioned above; the grounds for disqualification are found in the Constitution of the State of Texas and the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. An approved motion for disqualification is a serious motion that is absolute and permanent; it affects all prior court proceedings.  It requires that both the prosecutor and the defense attorney present the case again before a new judge.

The outcome of a trial for a defendant depends on many things, one of which is the right to a fair and impartial trial. In Texas, when circumstances arise where that fairness could be compromised, it requires a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to identify any potential risks and know how any action should be handled. The use of recusal or disqualification may be necessary when an attorney discovers a judge may have prior interests with a case or its associated parties.  With the help of a lawyer experienced in handling criminal law cases, a defendant can be assured of receiving a fair trial from an unbiased judge in a neutral court setting.

Garza & Elizondo, LLP, Attorney at Law
680 East St. Charles, Suite 600
Brownsville TX 78520
(956) 544-5077

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