Police Investigator Causes Mistrial

by TChris

Sometimes a prosecution witness, sensing that the case against the accused has gone south, decides to help the prosecutor with a little extra testimony, something calculated to turn the jury against the accused. Something like this, as described by Hennepin County, Minnesota District Court Judge Charles A. Porter Jr.:

It was clear from her preparation as a witness, as well as from her participation in the investigation, that Sgt. Murphy knew when she testified...that the case had been going well for the defense and that her testimony was going to be crucial in solidifying this prosecution for the State. Nevertheless, she chose to interject into this case a remark highlighting the existence of a prior record for the Defendant, which was totally inadmissible, had been so ruled by this Court, and could only lead to the declaration of a mistrial once it was said...

This is usually a win-win tactic for the witness. If the judge doesn't grant the mistrial, the inadmissible evidence may prop up a weak case and produce a guilty verdict. If the judge grants the mistrial, the prosecution gets out from under a bad trial and gains time to build a better case.

Not this time. In a blistering order, Judge Porter held that the government witness provoked the mistrial by attempting to thwart the accused's right to a fair trial. By causing a manifest injustice that forced the trial to end, the state forfeited its right to try the accused again. Judge Porter's courageous decision reminds the prosecution that the right to a fair trial trumps the government's desire to punish any particular defendant.

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