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Judicial Irrationality-A Commentary on Goodlow v. State, Docket No. 54198

In 2010, Deljuan Goodlow appealed his judgment of conviction which was entered after a Washoe County jury found him guilty of first degree murder with use of a deadly weapon, home invasion, and burglary. The underlying facts of the case are as follows: California residents Carolyn Van Loock and Royce Riley were staying at the Lido Inn in Reno, Nevada while on vacation were they were witness to an argument between two men in outside their motel room. Suddenly, one of the men pulled a gun out whereupon Van Loock and Riley fled inside their motel room. The two men arguing, one Frank Smith and one Deljuan Goodlow, then attempted to kick the door to the couples room, broke the couple's motel room window, and ultimately shot Riley in the chest, killing him, while Van Loock hid in the bathroom. Security cameras from a neighboring property recorded the incident.

Upon shooting Riley, Smith and Goodlow fled the scene in a black car. After a determined search, Police located the car though it was abandoned. However, Police observed blood both inside and outside the black car. Police then found Goodlow nearby with cuts on his arms and the keys to the black car on his person. As a result, Police arrested Goodlow and subsequently showed him the surveillance video that recorded the incident. Upon seeing the video, Goodlow admitted he was the person depicted therein. Smith was later arrested separately. Over Goodlow's objection, the District Court Judge ordered the co-defendant's be tried together.

During Jury selection, the Judge made the following comments and statements to jurors:

Now, I cannot say in any way, shape or form that I hate the defendants, because I'm a judge. I can't say I hate Saddam Hussein. I can't say I hated Adolph Hitler. I can't say I hated Ho Chi Minh. And I fought in the jungles against his boys. Do you see what I'm saying? So we don't go there. I don't know if I hate the NVA or Viet Cong now, even though they killed my men and wounded me.

It's right this minute, before you hear anything, can you apply the law, can you give the defendants presumption of innocence? And if you say, "I'm not sure," you know what? That's all [all] of us are saying that stuff right now, "I'm not sure."

So I'm not going to let you off the hook. I'm going to—you've got to tell me that. . . you don't like Mr. Goodlow because he's black. You don't like [him] because—whatever. You don't like the system, you don't like the lawyers, you don't like the prosecutor. See what I mean? Specific as far as why you cannot—before you even hear the case, why you cannot be a fair and impartial juror. Okay?

The judge also stated: "[a]nybody else in regards to enmity, hatred, bias, prejudice against [Goodlow] because of the charges, anybody. . . have any member of your immediate family or yourself that's been affected by these horrible—this horrible murder, horrible burglary, horrible invasion of the home?"

Needless to say, Goodlow's attorney moved for a mistrial upon hearing the statement, which was summarily denied. Subsequently, the Judge also denied Goodlow's Batson objection to the peremptory challenge of several minority jurors, which was also denied. After a 7 day trial, Goodlow was sentenced to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Goodlow appealed the decision arguing that in making the statements indicated above the Judge tainted the jury pool and guaranteed Goodlow could not have had a fair trial. The Nevada Supreme Court agreed and reversed the decision. In justifying its position, the Court noted that, "Because of the respect a juror has for a judge, the judge's commentary can mold the juror's opinion". Moreover, the Court, quoting Parodi v. Washoe Medical Ctr., that:

"The average juror is a layman; the average layman looks with most profound respect to the presiding judge; and the jury is, as a rule, alert to any remark that will indicate favor or disfavor on the part of the trial judge. Human opinion is oft times formed upon circumstances meager and insignificant in their outward appearance; and the words and utterances of a trial judge, sitting with a jury in attendance, are liable, however unintentional, to mold the opinion of the members of the jury . . ."

Furthermore, the court noted that even where evidence of guilt is quite apparent, "misconduct may so interfere with the right to a fair trial as to constitute grounds for reversal."After commenting that evidence of guilt is strong in this case, the Court noted that "commentary from the judge calling the crimes "horrible" and referring to the defendants in the same context as infamous figures like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, and Ho Chi Minh is so outrageous as to create the appearance of partiality and result in a miscarriage of justice."

The Court further stated that, "the judge's commentary in this case is so egregious that it is necessary to discourage all district courts from making any similar commentary in the future" because such commentary "grossly" undermines Canons of Judicial Ethics.

What a joke. That the Nevada Supreme Court must entertain an appeal because a Judge fell so far out of pocket that he let slip a barely concealed fact is itself egregious, the barely concealed fact being the impartiality of judges, who are simply men. What this demonstrates is that the idea of a neutral jurist is just an idea, a flight of fancy, and that in fact judges are "human, all too human" with the prejudices and flaws that plague our feeble race. To place a feeble little man in judgment of another is an aberration, a cruel joke that rules of "ethics" barely attempt to mitigate, and never succeed.

Until man can be proven blameless, until truth is the goal and not the naked and raw exercise of power, then no man should stand in judgment of another, for judgment is not a product of lucid and neutral reason but rather the end result of irrational and barely fettered emotion, informed by culture and prejudice.