For example, suppose Donald Trump is brought to trial for inciting the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol.

It's virtually inconceivable that there'll be any judge who hasn't seen that incident in the news. Therefore they already have some knowledge of the facts of the case and could very well have formed an opinion on it. Since judges are expected to recuse if they have personal knowledge of disputed facts, how would one find an impartial judge for the trial?

NB: This particular case I would expect to be argued in the US Supreme Court, for which there are only 9 judges, but I am also interested in other well-publicized cases which are undergoing (or have already undergone) trial by media that might be argued in a lower court.

  • 8
    "This particular case I would expect to be argued in the US Supreme Court": Maybe on appeal, but it isn't where trial would be held; SCOTUS wouldn't have original jurisdiction for such a case. I'd assume trial would be in DC District Court, before a single judge, just like any other criminal case in that district. Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 5:27
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    "Personal knowledge" might be better expressed in that wording as: "Personal Involvement"
    – MikeB
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 11:44
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    The harder part would be finding an unbiased jury. Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 12:39
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    @NateEldredge or perhaps the Superior Court of the District of Columbia?
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 19:10
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    @Studoku if a trial is conducted by jury, how would one find an unbiased jury? (Or I can ask that as a separate question)
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 0:29

1 Answer 1


"Personal knowledge of disputed facts" doesn't refer to awareness of news reports or other facts available in the public record. That is public knowledge, not personal knowledge.

It rather refers to private knowledge that the judge (or people who are closely related to the judge) might have of pertinent facts. For example, California Code of Civil Procedure 170.1:

(a) A judge shall be disqualified if any one or more of the following are true:

(1) (A) The judge has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.

(B) A judge shall be deemed to have personal knowledge within the meaning of this paragraph if the judge, or the spouse of the judge, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person is to the judge’s knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.

(2) ...

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    Does this mean that the judge does not have to recuse even if they've already formed an opinion on the case based on the publicly-available facts?
    – Allure
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 4:50
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    @Allure judges know better than to form opinions based on publicly reported facts.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 5:24
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    And, even if the judge has formed an opinion, it is assumed as a matter of law that a judge can put aside any prejudice and issue a fair ruling notwithstanding their personal opinions (because that's literally their entire job). Nobody realistically expects judges to be robots; they are allowed to have lives outside of the courtroom.
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 8:21
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    @Kevin thanks, that's a much better way of saying what I was trying to say.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 19:07

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