In a felony DWI case, Gaal v. State, the defendant was set to plead guilty. When the time came for him to plead, however, he refused. The trial judge stated, “All right. We’re supposed to have a plea here today. It appears that [the defendant] does not want to plea. For the record, I will not accept any plea bargain in this matter, unless it’s for the maximum term of ten years.”
The defendant later filed a motion to recuse the trial judge, contending that his statement that he would not accept a plea deal for less than the maximum, showed that he could not be fair and impartial. Another judge, at a recusal hearing, denied the request. On appeal, the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) held that appellant was denied due process by the trial judge’s statements and that the judge should have been recused.
The Court of Criminal Appeals now holds that the lower court got it all wrong. The CCA characterizes the trial judge’s statement not as a denial of due process.
The trial judge’s comment could quite logically and reasonably have been a short-hand rendition of a statement that it was time for the defendant to quit shilly-shallying because he has twice rejected favorable plea bargains…and was continuing to drink in violation of his bond conditions.
The CCA goes on:
A reasonable person, based on the totality of the circumstances, would translate the judge’s statements as, “I’m not going to reset this case for any more plea negotiations; we’re going to trial.”
And as the Court points out, a “defendant does not have an absolute right to enter into a plea bargain” and “the trial judge doesn’t have to take a plea bargain.”