Can a Superior court judge in a criminal bench trial answer a question asked of a witness for the prosecution? 8 Answers as of February 21, 2011

A witness for the prosecution (police) was under direct examination by DA when asked a question of evidence regarding how far from point A. to point B. (example). Witness pointed to the back wall of courtroom as his answer. DA then asked JUDGE what his "Guess" was to the distance. Judge GUESSED 35 ft. The court reporter then entered 35 ft as "testimonial evidence" The Judge actually testified for the prosecutions witness ! The distance was actually incorrect! Is this misconduct? Can a judge answer a question for a witness? Defense counsel did not object, but I believe he should have.

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Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
This is customary and is really not a guess nor is the judge answering the question. The witness gives an estimate based on the courtroom dimensions and the judge takes notice of a distance he should be intimately familiar with based on past cases. I agree the use of the word "guess" in the estimate is poor form but not misconduct. If any party disagrees with the estimate there is nothing stopping them from actually measuring the distance.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/21/2011
The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
Usually, courtrooms have been measured from a certain point of reference to other points. Such as from the witness chair to the railing separating the audience from the courtroom well, to the doors at the back of the courtroom. It is not uncommon for an attorney (DA, private, criminal or civil) to ask a witness to estimate a distance, and to use reference points in the courtroom.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/17/2011
The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann
The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann | Christopher J. McCann
A judge can and will give these types of descriptions "for the record" because such things like how far apart a witness holds his or her hands, for example, can't be recorded in the transcript without an audible description. Distances between objects in the courtroom are FREQUENTLY proposed to the judge and you might be surprised to learn that most all judges have had these distances in their courtroom pre-measured by their bailiff and often have a drawing on the bench in front of them. If they are wrong, then the defense attorney should have objected and gave their own opinion.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/17/2011
LynchLaw
LynchLaw | Michael Thomas Lynch
Great question. The answer is a qualified, Yes. Often an attorney will ask the Judge to clarify information for the record, which is merely the text of verbal testimony. For instance, say an attorney asked the question: How far apart were the cars? The witness might answer buy saying this far, and hold his hands up in front of his chest. The attorney might ask the court to let the record reflect the witness has indicated about two feet apart. If opposing counsel does not challenge the request, and the Judge agrees with counsels estimate of two feet between the witnesses hands, then the Judge will have the estimate actually put into the record. So, when the Judge gave the estimate of the distance between the witness and the back wall as 35 feet, when the attorney asked the Judge for an estimate, your attorney had the opportunity to clarify or challenge that estimate. The fact that he did not means that he either felt the estimate was accurate, or he felt the figure helped your case more that the actual distance.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/17/2011
Nelson & Lawless
Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
And your complaint of damage is? This might provide grounds for an appeal of a conviction, if it caused a demonstrably wrong outcome based upon mistaken evidence. If serious about pursuing such appeal, feel free to contact me.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/17/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    A jusge can give answers to questions that involve the size of the court room or as to facts that are known to be true,(the sun is up at noon).
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/17/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    Generally all distances in a courtroom are remeasured like from bench up door, etc so when a wit says it was about as far from here to the wall everyone knows judge usually asks both lawyers to stipulate it was 25 feet but that the didn't do that will not get case reversed especially when defense lawyer didn't object.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/17/2011
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