Judge Ordered Mistrial When Defendants Represented Themselves on the Basis of Competing-Harms Doctrine
Was the Judge Wrong in Ordering Mistrial When the Defendants were Representing Themselves on the Basis of Competing-Harms Doctrine Which the Judge Ruled as Inadmissible ?
In Brady v. Samaha, 667 F.2d 224, 229 (1st Cir. 1981), the defendants chose to represent themselves at their jury trial. Brady, 667 F.2d at 225.
Although the heart of their defense was the competing-harms doctrine, the trial judge ruled that he would not allow evidence related to competing harms. Brady, 667 F.2d at 226.
When the defendants persisted with their competing-harms defense, the trial court excused the jury and explained to the defendants his rulings on the inadmissibility of certain evidence. Brady, 667 F.2d at 227.
When trial resumed the next day, one of the defendants again referenced the competing-harms doctrine. Brady, 667 F.2d at 227.
The trial court found that defendant in contempt, determined that the action of that defendant rendered the continuance of the trial unfair to the remaining defendants, and ordered a mistrial. Brady, 667 F.2d at 227. the reviewing court determined that the trial judge failed to engage in a scrupulous exercise of discretion in declaring a mistrial. Brady, 667 F.2d at 229.
The reviewing court found it significant that the trial judge failed to consider alternatives to a mistrial, failed to afford counsel an opportunity to be heard on the subject, and failed to devote adequate time to the mistrial decision. Brady, 667 F.2d at 229.
Specifically, the reviewing court found that "the apparent failure of the judge to consider alternatives and the abruptness with which he acted resemble the actions of the trial judge 'that can be fairly described as erratic' denounced in United States v. Jorn[, 400 U.S. 470, 27 L. Ed. 2d 543, 91 S. Ct. 547 (1971)]." Brady, 667 F.2d at 230, quoting Illinois v. Somerville, 410 U.S. 458, 469, 35 L. Ed. 2d 425, 434, 93 S. Ct. 1066, 1073 (1973).