Login Form

Mistrial Declared in Etan Patz Child Murder Case - Legal Commentary by Boston Attorney Hank Brennan

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Etan Patz murder trial recently ended after 18 days of deliberation in a stunning mistrial that seemed an impossibility as the defendant confessed and provided sick, demented, details of the child's last moments of life.

Inside the jury room, where seemingly normal people jockey for power and control, facts often get lost in the play for dominance

Boston legal scholar Attorney Hank Brennan, former Prosecutor for Suffolk and Essex counties, has dealt with his share of juries from voir dire to verdict.As a former prosecutor, Brennan agreed to provide a legal viewpoint from inside the jury room as to some causes of mistrial.

Q. Obviously, the simplest question, how is this possible? Do you think it is the way in which evidence is perceived? The length of time in between crime and trial, how about admissible confessions?

A. There are many causes for a mistrial. Some reasons for a mistrial are based on a fundamental problem with the jury or deliberation process that infects the jury.

For example, if a juror knew a witness in the case and either failed to disclose their knowledge or recognized a witness after the case already began this potential bias could cause a mistrial.

Another reason for a mistrial could be that an outside source infected the jury during deliberation. This type of mistrial would include jurors learning of inadmissible evidence or tampering by a third party.  

The most common cause of a mistrial is the situation that occurred in the Patz case. Although the word mistrial standing alone has a dubious connotation, a mistrial can be based on the simple fact that all jurors could not agree on guilt or innocence. This is not an uncommon phenomenon.

This type of mistrial does not invoke double jeopardy, thus, the prosecution if free to retry the case if they choose to do so.

Sometimes jurors have committed themselves to guilt or innocence before trial. Other times, personal conflicts between jurors can cause one or many jurors refuse to compromise and remain adverse to each other based on personal issues as opposed to the facts of the case. Sometimes reasonable people simply don't agree.  

Q. In this case a single holdout indicated they did not feel there was enough evidence to convict how did eleven people find enough and one not?

A. The lone hold-out juror provided an interview with the New York Post today.  His commentary and opinion was thoughtful, comprehensive, and seemingly sincere. It is not often that a juror will provide such a candid interview so this jurors thoughts actually helps both sides in the event of a retrial.

The defense will better identify what issues a juror may struggle with and the prosecution can isolate the concerning issues and attempt to improve their evidence on those issues.

The division of jurors has no relevance in a re-trial. It is a trap for an inexperienced lawyer to feel comforted by the jury division in their favor or discouraged by a jury division against them. The next jury is a clean slate and there no value to attaching emotion to the juror breakdown.

Q. What are the next options for the prosecutor?

A. Putting aside emotion, the prosecution will appreciate that they have a viable case if virtually every juror sought to commit. In assessing resources available for a re-trial, likelihood of success, relevance of plea bargaining, and whether putting the victim's family through another trial are all issues that have some relevance to the jury break down.

I expect given the circumstances the prosecution will not hesitate to retry the case. Given the extent of the defendant's alleged mental health illness and his age, I do not think a plea bargain to a lower level of murder is beyond reason.

 

Haute Tease

  • Jane Review - Fascinating Story of Jane Goodall, Her Family and Life in The Jungle

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Jane, from National Geographic Studios and Abramorama, tell the amazing story of a young Jane Goodall from the vantage point of age, she reflects on her early days in the jungle, the joys, disappointment, and her unexpected fame.

     
  • Novitiate Review - Performance Driven Indie Delivers

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Novitiate, from Sony Pictures Classics, presents an insider's view behind the scared walls of the nunnery as it follows a group of young women who believe they have been called to the live a life of sacrifice in service for God.

     
  • AFI FEST 2017 Presented by Audi Announces Festival Dates And Call For Entries; 31st Edition of AFI FEST to Be Held November 9 – 16, 2017

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    AFI FEST 2017 presented by Audi has officially announced its dates and call for entries. An annual program of the American Film Institute, AFI FEST brings Hollywood icons, emerging artists, and audiences together to experience global cinema in the movie capital of the world.  

  • Garry Marshall, Show Creator and Beloved Director, Dies

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Garry Marshall, director, creator, actor, writer and personality, who enjoyed more than six decades making Hollywood memories and known for his uncanny ability to capture the heartstrings of audiences everywhere, passed away due to complications from pneumonia. He was 81.

     
  • Two Additional Centerpiece Galas and Seven Special Screenings Added To AFI Fest 2015 Presented By Audi

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The American Film Institute (AFI) announced two additional Centerpiece Galas at AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi. WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, directed by Michael Moore, will screen on Saturday, November 7 at the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian.  

  • LA Scene: Rubies + Diamonds Hosts a Grand Reopening

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Rubies + Diamonds, the upscale Coffee and Tea House located in the trendy Columbia Square complex, on Sunset Boulevard, recently hosted a grand reopening introducing a new line of teas, a chic interior design, and a simplified exotic menu.

     
  • Three Defendants Plead Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Participating in $57.3 Million Fraud on Victims of Nazi Persecution

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that GENRIKH KOLONTYRSKIY, MOYSEY KUCHER, and DORA KUCHER pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to defraud programs administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. (the Claims Conference), established to aid the survivors of Nazi persecution, out of more than $57 million.