Motion for a New Trial
Like all things in the justice system, jury trials are subject to errors, manipulation, and corruption. At times, the judge or jury just simply get it wrong. Fortunately, a defendant can file a motion for a new trial to remedy the situation.
Reasons for Filing a Motion for New Trial:
• Jury misconduct
• Misconduct by the prosecution
• Error of law by the court
• Insufficient evidence
• Trial record or transcript has been lost/destroyed
• New evidence now exists
If the motion is granted, the defendant will start a whole new trial with a “clean slate” as if no previous trial had ever happened.
Here is a discussion/explanation of the above reasons.
Jury misconduct can refer to an assortment of different issues. In California, the most common reason for filing a motion for new trial is probably jury misconduct, stating that the jury received outside information regarding evidence that was not presented at trial. This information could be substantially likely to influence at least one member of the jury in a manner which is prejudicial to the defendant. This being the case, the motion is very likely to be granted.
Other types of jury misconduct could be:
• Engaging in inappropriate deliberations, i.e. improperly discussing the fact that the defendant chose not to testify
• Jury members intentionally misleading the attorneys during the jury selection process
• Any other form of misconduct
No matter the reason, the critical issue would be whether the misconduct in some way led to prejudice against the defendant. If the court determines that it did not prejudice or harm the defendant, then the motion would be denied.
Misconduct by the Prosecution
If the prosecutor were to engage in prosecutorial misconduct to the point of prejudice, the defendant would be entitled to a new trial. Prosecutorial Misconduct – The use of deceptive or improper methods which could influence the jury.
Examples might include, but not be limited to:
• Commenting on inadmissible evidence
• Intentionally provoking inadmissible/prejudicial answers from witnesses
• Conducting improper cross-examination of defendant or other witnesses
• Appeals to passion or prejudice
The California Supreme Court states, “The ultimate question to be decided is: Had the prosecutor refrained from the misconduct, is it reasonably probable that a result more favorable
to the defendant would have occurred?” If the answer is in the affirmative, then the defendant will most likely prevail on his/her motion for new trial. If the answer is in the negative, it means that the court believed that the misconduct was harmless and didn't prejudice the defendant, and deny the motion for new trial.
Error of Law by the Court
Examples of the court committing an error of law:
• Misdirecting the jury on a matter of law
• Making an erroneous legal ruling
If a judge were guilty of either of the above, the defendant would be entitled to a new trial. Like the above, this misconduct also must have impacted and prejudiced the defendant's
substantial rights. In addition, if the judge were to proceed with your trial in your absence, you would prevail on the motion. Unless, however, you legally waive your presence or you were removed from the court for misconduct.
Of Important Note: A motion of this type could potentially be granted even if you were only “mentally absent”. That is, your condition was not voluntarily induced. Example: A defendant becoming insane during the trial. If you are clear, lucid and able to effectively communicate with your attorney during trial, you will be deemed mentally present.
California criminal law allows the judge extensive discretion in determining whether or not the evidence was sufficient enough to sustain a guilty verdict. If the judge believes that the evidence was not sufficient, even in light of a guilty verdict by a jury, he/she will grant your motion for a new trial. Insufficient evidence differs a bit from the other reasons for new trial, in that if the judge grants the motion, you will not actually receive a new trial, but rather the charges will be dismissed.
By law, once the judge grants a motion on this ground, “double jeopardy” then prevents the prosecution from retrying the case. If there is insufficient evidence to retry your case, then you
would be entitled to an acquittal.
New Evidence Now Exists
If you or your attorney were to discover new evidence post-trial which would most likely result in a more favorable outcome for you, you may be entitled to a new trial. Factors that the court will consider in the granting or denying of the motion:
• Whether or not the evidence is actually new
• Whether or not the evidence is cumulative of what has previously been admitted
• Whether or not the evidence would yield a different result at a new trial
• Whether or not the defendant's counsel could have reasonably discovered/produced the evidence at the previous trial
• Whether or not these new facts are shown by the best evidence available under the circumstances
Trial Record or Transcript has been Lost/Destroyed
Trial records and transcripts are well-preserved so that the lawyers and judges can analyze and review appeals. If those records/transcripts are lost or destroyed, the defendant has therefore
lost his/her ability to present a case for appeal. It will then need to be determined whether or not the lost or destroyed portion affects the ability of the court to conduct a meaningful review. And whether or not it affects the defendant's ability to properly present his/her appeal.
In addition to the grounds stated above, there are further grounds for receiving a new trial. These are referred to as “non-statutory grounds”. These issues have also been held as interfering
with the defendant's right to a fair and impartial trial. They include, but are not limited to:
• Ineffective assistance of counsel
• Erroneous admission of evidence
• Prosecutor's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, which is evidence that is favorable to the accused
• Material change in the law
Procedural Characteristics A motion of this type, in order to be valid, must be submitted prior to:
• The judge's granting of probation
• The defendant being committed as an addict, mentally insane person or sex offender
The judge is required to rule on the motion prior to any of the above events and within twenty (20) days, or thirty (30) days with an extension. Failure to do so will result in an automatic new trial.
Once the court hears the above motion, it has three (3) options:
1) be released on bail.
2) It can deny the motion and render judgment on the verdict.
3) It can adjust the verdict to a lesser offense of the convicted charge, or reduce the degree
of the charge.
Thus, even if the judge were to deny your motion, a motion for new trial can still be brought before the California Court of Appeals.
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