Peremptory Disqualification of Judge In Conviction Trial
Other courts which have peremptory challenge rules similar to Alaska's have concluded that a defendant who files an application for post-conviction relief is not entitled to peremptorily disqualify the judge who presided at the trial which led to his underlying conviction. See Johnson v. Minnesota, 486 N.W.2d 825 (Minn. App. 1992); Thomas v. Missouri, 808 S.W.2d 364 (Mo. 1991); Falcon v. North Dakota, 1997 ND 200, 570 N.W.2d 719 (N.D. 1997).
These cases rely on policy arguments similar to the one Judge Link advanced in denying Plyler's motion for change of judge. In Johnson v. Minnesota, the court observed that "a trial judge has unique insight into the record developed over the course of a prosecution." 486 N.W.2d 825, 827 (Minn. App. 1992).
The Missouri Supreme Court in Thomas v. Missouri discussed this policy in greater detail:
First, the majority of post-conviction claims focus on the effectiveness of the now-convicted defendant's trial counsel. on review, we defer to the trial judge's ability to assess the credibility of the witnesses at the post-conviction motion hearing and reverse that judge's conclusion only if it is clearly erroneous.
Yet the peremptory challenge rule permits the parties to seek a change of judge without cause, thereby removing the judicial officer best acquainted with the case and its conduct from consideration of claims relating to trial counsel's representation of the convicted defendant.
The peremptory challenge rule, if invoked, thus requires a judge to determine issues of defense counsel's competence, despite that judge's lack of personal experience with or personal observation of the flow of the criminal trial, the demeanor of the trial witnesses, the strength of the state's case, the relative strength of the defense case as presented, the character of the convicting jury, or the intuitive assessment of the quality of trial counsel's representation upon which the standard of review is founded. Thomas v. Missouri, 808 S.W.2d 364, 366-67 (Mo. 1991).
The Missouri court went on to point out that allowing a defendant who files an application for post-conviction relief to peremptorily disqualify the original trial judge would cause inefficiency and delay:
Second, the addition of a new judge, unfamiliar with the trial record, fosters unnecessary delay. Particularly where the underlying trial involved complicated issues or took a long time to try, the . . . court must carefully consider the entire trial from the record to consider the application for post- conviction relief properly.
This is neither an easy, nor swift process; asking a new judge to hear the motion builds in the very delay the court rules applying to post-conviction relief are designed to eliminate.
The Missouri court pointed out that a defendant still retained the right to file a challenge for cause to remove a biased judge.