What happens if a due process violation occurred during a trial?

A conviction resulting from an unfair or procedurally compromised trial may not be the last word. The sexual assault mistrial involving several former Vanderbilt University football players is a recent example. The players were found guilty after standing trial in a Tennessee court. However, a post-conviction inquiry into the impartiality of the jurors determined that one juror might have been dishonest. That finding let to a mistrial, and one of the players is now preparing for a retrial.

What kind of findings might prompt a mistrial? In one case that came before the Supreme Court of Tennessee, State v. Smith, the court agreed that potentially improper contact between a juror and one of the prosecutor's witnesses warranted a remand, if not more relief. In its opinion, the court emphasized that a criminal defendant has a right to a trial by jurors who are both unbiased and impartial. Only the evidence that was properly submitted during the trial should influence jurors, and the jury's verdict should flow from that evidence. 

The opinion also emphasized that a court must take action after learning of potentially improper jury conduct. The typical procedure is to convene an evidentiary hearing in open court, before both parties, and reach a determination on the record whether a juror should be disqualified. 

Our law firm focuses on appeals and post-conviction services. Among other issues, our experience includes investigations of whether evidence at trial was properly included or excluded, whether a defendant's constitutional rights were protected during the trial, and whether jury instructions were proper. In addition, it is also important to determine whether a potential due process violation or other type of wrong made a prejudicial impact on the trial outcome.

Source: The Tennessean, "Live updates: Cory Batey retrial in Vanderbilt rape case," Stacey Barchenger, April 6, 2016

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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