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A defendant's failure to make a timely objection does not preclude reversal where the judge's comments adversely affect the substantial right of the defendant to have his defense fairly heard and to have the question of his guilt or innocence decided by the jury and not by the court.
A teller at the Ohio State Bank identified defendant Michael Yates as the person who had robbed the bank. In response to a call from the FBI, Yates voluntarily presented himself at the FBI office where he was interviewed by Agents Gableman and Rogers. The FBI agents testified that after being properly informed of his rights and signing a waiver form, Yates fully confessed to the robbery. Thereupon Gableman reduced the statement to writing which, the officers testified, Yates read and voluntarily signed after making certain corrections. At the trial Yates took the stand on his own behalf and denied that he robbed the bank. He claimed he did not read the statement before signing it and did not know that it contained any confession of the bank robbery. The trial court commented that Yates had admitted his participation in the robbery, and he was convicted of the crime charged. Yates challenged the decision.
Under the circumstances, should the court sustain Yates’ conviction?
The Court reversed Yates’ conviction for bank robbery, holding that the trial court improperly commented upon the evidence, effectively negating defendant's defense, and erroneously admitted a letter containing hearsay statements outside the business records exception. Moreover, the Court held that Yates’ failure to make a timely objection did not preclude reversal because the comments adversely affected his substantial right to have his defense fairly heard and to have the question of his guilt or innocence decided by the jury.