February 09, 2021 Practice Points

Seventh Circuit Reverses District Court in Judge Corruption Case

The question before the court had been whether the corruption of the judge before whom the petitioner had been tried was sufficient to warrant a new trial.

By Sanford Hausler

The Seventh Circuit reversed the decision of the district court in Gacho v. Wills.  The district court, in a habeas case, had denied the petitioner relief.  The question before the court had been whether the corruption of the judge before whom he had been tried was sufficient to warrant a new trial.  The judge was unquestionably corrupt and had taken a bribe from the petitioner's codefendant, who, unsurprisingly, had opted for a bench trial.  (The judge doubled-crossed the codefendant and convicted him anyway.)

Nevertheless, the court decided that the petitioner had to make a showing of actual bias, and dismissed the petition.  The Seventh Circuit, however, reversed, holding that the Supreme Court in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 556 U.S. 868, 878–86 (2009), had held that while a subjective showing of actual bias violates due process, an objective showing of perceived bias also violates due process.  Here, there was clear bias against the codefendant, who had bribed the judge, but the court found it impossible to think that the judge was not similarly biased against the petitioner who was being tried based on the same evidence.


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