The Ultimate Mistrial: A War Story

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Tuesday, June 4th, 2019
The Ultimate Mistrial: A War Story

Anyone who has tried cases to a jury has at one time or another had a mistrial. I recall a time when I tried a murder case involving a very young man who shot another student to take a sports jacket. Sad case, but I needed something to shake the state up and get a better offer. No such offer ever came, and I prepared for trial. The trial commenced in Dallas County with two experienced prosecutors.

The jurors came in and voir dire began. On looking at the juror information, I noticed a lady who had put down her religion as “New Age.” Now, I did not then and do not now know what the specifics of that particular religion are, but perhaps there would be some kind of disruption of the system. I did not make all my strikes to keep her within the range of jurors, and I did not question or mention her religious choice. I hoped the State did not notice and would not strike her, as she appeared perfectly normal among the group. She made the jury panel.

The trial lasted a bit longer than two days, and we began deliberations on the morning of the third day around 9:30 a.m. I got some lunch from the cafeteria and waited through lunch. About 3:00 p.m., the prosecutors went to a meeting upstairs.

In Dallas County at that time, the jurors had a button that set off a blinking red light on the wall next to the judge’s bench in the courtroom when they had a question, a request, or some other matter. I was in the courtroom by myself—no bailiff, no judge, and no prosecutors.

I noticed the blinking red light. I went to the rear courtroom door to the hallway where the jury room and judge’s office were to alert the judge of the light. I opened the door and stepped into the hallway. The first thing I noticed was the judge running down the hallway about 50 feet to my right, robe billowing, and a woman screaming and also running. To my left I noticed the door to the jury room was open, and a bailiff was in the doorway holding in screaming jurors. I decided I needed to be in the courtroom more than I did in the hallway.

I had just walked into the courtroom when the two prosecutors came hurriedly in and asked me what happened. I told them what I had seen. Shortly the judge came in and instructed us to return to our seats and told a bailiff to bring in the jury. Eleven came in, obviously upset, and sat in the jury box. Two bailiffs then came in and set the remaining juror in the witness chair. Sure enough, it was the “New Age” lady.

The judge identified the foreman and asked if the jury could reach a verdict. The foreman said he thought it impossible. The judge declared a mistrial, instructed the eleven jurors to remain seated, and waived to the two deputies with the remaining juror to take her from the courtroom. The judge then began telling the jurors how much he appreciated their time and efforts, how the legal system could not work without citizens such as themselves, etc. The remaining bailiff got the word that New Age lady had left the building and alerted the judge. After being thanked again, the jurors were allowed go home and the jury box emptied.

I hung around a bit and asked the judge, an old friend, what had happened. It seems New Age lady was examining all the evidence through colored glass disks to determine what it all meant that the non-believers were missing, and arguing with everything two school-teacher jurors said or believed could be drawn from the same evidence. Finally, after arguing all day, one of the school teachers grabbed at her across the table, telling New Age lady she was going to kill her. That set off the chaos that ended the trial.

So far as I know, I am the only lawyer who got a mistrial because one juror threatened to kill another.