Categorized | Opinion

Mistrial

By David Peel

As an injury lawyer, I only get paid a fee when I resolve a case favorably or win at trial.   As such, I view a mistrial as a real tragedy.  A mistrial is stoppage to the trial, usually because the trial can no longer be fair.  It usually means a whole do-over.
Often, the reason for a mistrial is that the jury cannot agree on a verdict. In Tennessee, we require unanimous verdicts, so if say, 5 jurors want to award nothing and 7 want to award a million dollars, and no one can convince the other to agree, the jury is hung.
A judge might also declare a mistrial when evidence that is inadmissible and prejudicial is blurted out in open court. That is why you see us have conferences at the bench with a judge quietly.
But one recent Philadelphia mistrial has become quite famous.  A man was on trial for aggravated assault. The defendant stood accused of punching another man in the eye so hard that the victim lost his eye.
His alleged victim was on the stand testifying, tearfully, when all of the sudden, his glass eye just fell out in his hand.
I understand that a collective gasp was heard throughout the courtroom as it occurred.
The judge granted a mistrial due to the prejudicial nature of the occurrence and the fear the jury might develop undue sympathy for the victim such that they could not be fair in their trial of the defendant.
However, upon retrial, the eye stayed put and the jury actually acquitted the defendant.
The most disturbing trend causing mistrials is juror misconduct. Jurors must deal only with what they hear in the courtroom. While they can obviously use common sense, they are not supposed to do their own investigations.
A valid verdict must be based on only the facts the judge has ruled are admissible, and not unduly prejudicial.
Jurors are now able to easily look up the arrest record of a criminal defendant on a smartphone. If there is fight about time to drive between two points, MapQuest or Google Maps will be regarded as authoritative by most jurors.  They can quickly review medical information or even ask for advice on Facebook.
All these can be grounds for a mistrial, but often the jurors are sincerely trying to get all the information they can to make a good decision.
As long as there have been trials, there have been problems.  But the problems are sure to grow in the future.
Peel seeks justice for those injured in car accidents, work place incidents, medical malpractice, and nursing homes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.

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