Avoiding the Mistrial
If you prevailed at trial, there is nothing worse than a mistrial. Talking about taking the wind out of your sails. It happens. Unfortunately.
Boyles, Personal Representative vs. Dillard’s Inc., 41 Fla.L.Weekly D1709a (Fla. 1st DCA 2016), is a case where the defense prevailed, but on appeal, the court granted a mistrial for multiple (or cumulative) reasons, only two of which will be discussed below. Both reasons, however, could have been avoided.
A. Closing Argument
First, during closing argument, the defense counsel tried to attack the credibility of the plaintiff’s trial testimony by bringing up what the plaintiff testified to during her deposition. The problem, however, was that the defense brought up the plaintiff’s deposition when the deposition transcript was NOT introduced into evidence or apparently used to impeach the plaintiff during her trial testimony. The defense only brought this up during closing in order to insinuate that the plaintiff was not telling the truth based on deposition testimony that was NOT in the record. This is a huge no-no! The appellate court expressed:
[B]ecause the inadmissibility of appeal to non-record evidence during closing arguments is such a fundamental and longstanding canon of trial practice and ethics, codified in rule 4-3.4 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, defense counsel’s violation, if not intentional, was at least grossly reckless, particularly because it was committed during closing arguments, when such improper statements are especially likely to inflame the minds and passions of the jurors so that their verdict reflects an emotional response . . . rather than the logical analysis of the evidence in light of the applicable law.
Boyles, supra (internal quotations omitted).
B. Voir Dire
Second, and another basis for a mistrial, during voir dire, the plaintiff read a standard jury instruction to the venire (jury pool) and essentially asked whether anyone would have a problem applying the law. The defense objected and the trial court precluded the plaintiff from asking a potential juror about the jury instruction. The appellate disagreed: “[D]enial to counsel of the opportunity to question prospective jurors on their ability to follow the law constitutes abuse of discretion and is grounds for a new trial.” Boyles, supra (internal quotations and citations omitted).
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