An appellate court has overturned the conviction of Leron Liggins, a Black man sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on drug charges after a white judge’s prejudicial comment. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Liggins had the right to a new trial due to the judge’s statement that he “looks like a criminal.”
Liggins had been indicted in 2018 on drug conspiracy charges by a Michigan grand jury with additional charges added in 2019.
A Michigan grand jury indicted Liggins on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute heroin in February 2018, but the case didn't go to trial until years later. The case faced delays, and during a pretrial hearing in January 2020, U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy III expressed frustration and stated, "This guy looks like a criminal to me." Liggins filed a motion for the judge's recusal, which was denied.
Concerns about bias were raised by the appellate panel as they disagreed with the judge’s decision not to recuse himself regardless of the comment’s intent. This case underscores the significance of impartiality in the judicial process and the imperative to ensure fair treatment for all individuals, irrespective of their appearance or background.
"Even if one were to assume a lack of racial bias on the part of the district judge, the remark nevertheless raises the specter of such bias. ... Beyond this remark, the district judge’s other remarks could be understood to demonstrate clear prejudgment of Liggins’ guilt," the opinion said.
Link: NBC News