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

  • Marina Kitchen Restaurant Review – Modern Comfort at the San Diego Marriott Marquis

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Central to a new food and beverage experience at the scenic San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina is Marina Kitchen a restaurant that serves up quintessential Southern California fare with distinctive "modern comfort food" flair.

     

     
  • AFI Conservatory Alumni Score Four 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The American Film Institute is proud to announce 17 AFI Conservatory alumni are credited across the feature films nominated for the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards this year and three nominations are for the Best Feature, Best Director categories.  

  • Fox Searchlight Signs Oscar Winning Director Guillermo Del Toro In Studio Deal To Create New Label For Horror, Sci-Fi And Fantasy Projects

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Fox Searchlight Pictures Presidents Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley announced that Fox Searchlight Pictures has signed a deal with Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro that covers live action feature film projects to be written, produced and/or directed by him.   

  • Anna Kendrick To Perform At 87th Oscars®

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Actress and singer Anna Kendrick will make a special appearance at the 87th Oscars, show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced today. The Oscars, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, will air on Sunday, February 22, live on ABC.

     
  • The Wall Review - Gripping, Raw, Psychological Warfare

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Wall, from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions, presents a contemporary wartime drama, a psychological cat and mouse, kill or be killed, snap trap with heightened suspense, mind bending mental game, played out in the heat of the Iraqi desert.

     
  • Paula Wagner to Produce 2013 Governors Awards

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    BEVERLY HILLS, CA – Paula Wagner will produce the 5th Annual Governors Awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced today. 

     
  • AFI FEST 2014 Presented by Audi Announces Inaugural Technology Showcase State Of The Art – Innovation, Storytelling and Technology

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, LOS ANGELES, CA, October 30, 2014 – AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi, a program of the American Film Institute, today announced an inaugural technology showcase, STATE OF THE ART – INNOVATION, STORYTELLING AND TECHNOLOGY, with curated and sponsored discussions.