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Alabama Appeals Issues – Ruling on Motions for Mistrials in Criminal Cases

by William L. Pfeifer, Jr. on March 27, 2013

in Appeals

A somewhat common issue in Alabama appeals of criminal cases is whether the trial judge should have granted or denied a mistrial. When a criminal defendant moves for a mistrial, he or she is asking the judge to declare the trial so flawed that it has to be stopped and started over again with a new jury. This issue gets addressed in Alabama appeals in the context of discovery violations, prosecutorial misconduct, juror misconduct, or other events that can happen during a trial to make the proceedings unfair.

The legal standard for appellate review of a trial judge’s decision over whether to grant or deny a mistrial is very high. A trial judge’s ruling on a motion for mistrial is within the trial court’s discretion and will only be reversed by an appellate court upon a showing of “manifest abuse.” Evans v. State, 794 So. 2d 415, 431 (Ala. Crim. App. 2000). Further, where a recess or a continuance would be sufficient to address the issue creating grounds for a mistrial, the defendant must request a recess or continuance before he can request a mistrial. McLemore v. State, 562 So. 2d 639, 645 (Ala. Crim. App. 1989). A mistrial is an extreme action and is only to be declared in situations where there is no other effective curative action the trial court can take.

While challenging a judge’s ruling on a mistrial motion is difficult in an Alabama appeal, there are situations where the Alabama appellate courts will reverse a trial court’s decision. For example,  improper closing arguments by a prosecutor giving personal opinions and beliefs or arguing facts not in evidence could create sufficient grounds for a mistrial. Determining whether a trial court should have granted a mistrial is an issue that has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Do you need to appeal an Alabama case where your trial lawyer argued for a mistrial? Did your trial attorney preserve the issue for appellate review making the proper objections? Contact our office to find out about your right to appeal and to discuss whether you have grounds for reversing a conviction or verdict.

Alabama State Bar rules require the following disclaimer in all attorney advertisements: “No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of services provided by other attorneys.”

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