Can a judge question witnesses at trial?

It is the role of the judge to remain impartial in your criminal case. This means the judge will treat both sides equal, fair, and, just. But, depending on what stage your case is at, maybe a jury trial, bench trial, or punishment hearing, the judge may have more room to ask some questions that could sound as if he or she is acting on behalf of the prosecution.

What can happen if the judge goes beyond allowed questioning of a witness?

There is a point where the judge can ask questions that affect his or her impartiality and abandon their neutral position. In the Texas 5th District Court of Appeals case, White v. State, the court explains that there are two dangers of a judge going beyond allowed questioning: (1) it may seem that by his or her questioning, the judge is communicating his opinion of the case to the jury and could persuade the jury to think the same and (2) the judge may lose his impartiality and start to support one side than the other.

More or less latitude is given for different stages of the case.

The court in White v. State, explains that if the trial is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury and both sides are making their argument before the judge only, the judge has more freedom to ask extensive/opposing questions. But, those questions must be relevant to what the issue is before the court and the judge must still remain neutral.

In the White v. State case, the defendant pled guilty and was receiving punishment from the judge, which is called a punishment hearing. In that hearing, the judge questioned several witnesses and even seemed hostile towards the defendant when questioning her. But, the appellate court said this did not cross the boundaries. The judge had the authority to “independently inquire from witness’s information relevant” to make her determination of punishment. The judge was the “factfinder of the case and had wide latitude to question any witness to obtain a clearer idea to inform its punishment decision.”

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