Rippo v. Baker

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: March 6, 2017
  • Case #: No. 16–6316
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: PER CURIAM
  • Full Text Opinion

In disqualification proceedings, the court must determine whether, objectively speaking, the risk of bias is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.

Petitioner was convicted of, among other offenses, first-degree murder and sentenced to death. At trial, Petitioner learned that the judge was the subject of a criminal investigation by the Clark County District Attorney’s office for alleged federal bribery charges. Petitioner then moved to have the judge disqualified under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis that the judge could not be impartial in a proceeding in which one of the parties involved was also the party that was having him investigated. The motion was denied as well as a subsequent motion for a new trial by a different judge. On direct appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed because Petitioner had failed to put forth any evidence proving the state officials were involved in the federal investigation. Petitioner then applied for post-conviction relief where he put forth evidence showing that the district attorney’s office had been involved in the investigation. However, the court denied relief and the Nevada Supreme Court subsequently affirmed by distinguishing Petitioner’s claim from that of the petitioner in Bracy v. Gramley and found that Petitioner was not entitled to the same relief because he had not properly shown that the judge was actually biased. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court determined that the state court had applied the wrong legal standard under Bracy and that no actual bias needed to be proven. Rather, the Court clarified that the lower court needed to discover if the risk of bias was such that it was too high to be constitutionally tolerable. VACATED and REMANDED.

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