The Georgia Supreme Court reversed a defendant’s murder conviction in the death of a 15 month old child because the judge made a number of improper statements during trial praising a police officer. Murphy v. State, S11A358.
“Specifically, during the officer’s testimony regarding the contents of Murphy’s statement to police, the trial court stated in response to an objection, “You’re asking this Detective, who is a good detective, what is in someone, somebody else’s head.” Further, the trial court stated, “[T]his man has worked a lot of cases and he’s got a recollection and he’s got a written memorandum and hopefully between the two of those and his good efforts we’re going to find the truth of the matter.””
The Court stated that “‘[j]urors, like other human beings, are unconsciously too much affected by strong mental impressions for these impressions to be nicely segregated from the mass of evidence.’” Chumley v. State, 282 Ga. 855, 858 (2) (655 SE2d 813) (2008). The Court found that the jurors could have interpreted the judge’s comments as expressing a favorable opinion of the officer’s abilities and thus bolstering his credibility.
The Court also criticized the judge, defense counsel and prosecution for the “inordinate delay” in the appeal of the case. The alleged crime occurred in 1998 and Murphy was convicted in 2000.