Pot and impartiality: the sequel

United States v. Smith, No. 14-2223 (7th Cir. Jan. 5, 2015).

Here is the concluding chapter of the appeal I first discussed here. Some background: As part of a criminal sentence, Jesse Smith was forbidden from using marijuana after being released from prison. For violating that condition, the district court—Judge Sara Darrow of the Central District of Illinois—sentenced Smith to one year and three months in prison. In the Seventh Circuit’s October opinion, it affirmed this sentencing decision but noticed that Judge Darrow had been the assistant U.S. attorney handling Smith’s case back in 2011. The Seventh Circuit asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs on whether Judge Darrow’s earlier involvement in the case should have led her to recuse herself. 

The supplemental briefing has now been completed. The government concedes that Judge Darrow violated the law governing judicial recusal, but says that the violation was harmless because her earlier involvement in Smiths case was minimal. 

The Seventh Circuit disagrees. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Judge Darrow was involved in asking the then-presiding district judge to send Smith to jail pending a final determination on whether Smith violated his condition of release by testing positive for marijuana. Thats a fairly significant level of involvement, says the Seventh Circuit, so it remands Smith’s case to another district court judge for re-sentencing.