An appeals court has thrown out a Miami-Dade criminal court judge’s controversial ruling restricting long-accepted fingerprint evidence.
The Third District Court of Appeals this week ruled that Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch should have removed himself from the case before issuing his ruling.
The reason: Hirsch had earlier told two prosecutors that he would remove himself from similar cases because he harbored “preconceived opinions on the subject of fingerprints.”
In October, Hirsch ruled that a police fingerprint examiner could not testify that he identified a conclusive fingerprint “match” for Miami’s Radames Borrego, who is accused of two burglaries.
The judge’s ruling raised eyebrows among legal observers because U.S. courts have long allowed experts to testify to jurors that the accused person’s fingerprint is unique to him or her.
The appeals court did not rule specifically on Hirsch’s fingerprint order, but nevertheless threw it out, saying the judge should not have presided over the case. It is unclear whether Hirsch will be able to preside over future criminal court cases involving fingerprint evidence.
Hirsch, a former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a law school professor who wrote a book on state criminal trial procedure, is well-known in South Florida’s legal community. He was elected in May 2010.
The judge — who often quotes Shakespeare in lengthy orders — often delves into polemic legal waters.
In 2010, when a Tampa federal judge ruled that Florida’s drug law was unconstitutional, Hirsch was the only local state judge to follow suit. He threw out more than two dozen cases, but the same Miami’s appeals court later reversed Hirsch.
Late last year, Hirsch from the bench criticized relatives of a murder victim after they criticized him in a Spanish-language television interview. After he declined to recuse himself from the case, the Third DCA booted him from the case.
Also last year, the same appeals court said Hirsch “did not have jurisdiction” when he filled in for a fellow judge, then reversed that judge’s decision to keep behind bars a man accused of violating a restraining order.
Hirsch will be ruling on a high-profile case next week.
Lawyers for Sergio Robaina, accused of voter fraud, have asked Hirsch to throw out two misdemeanors charged under a county ordinance prohibiting possession of more than two absentee ballots. The ordinance is unconstitutional, they claim.