“Mistrial: A trial that ends prematurely and without a judgment, due either to a mistake that jeopardizes a right to a fair trial or to a jury that can’t agree on a verdict (a “hung jury”). If a judge declares a mistrial in a civil case, he or she will direct that the case be set for a new trial at a future date. Mistrials in criminal cases can result in a retrial, a plea bargain, or a dismissal of the charges.”
Mistrial don’t often happen. But yesterday, following a legal faux-pas of Harry Potter opening night line proportions, that’s exactly what happened.
A quick recap of the Clemens saga is in order. In 2007, Clemens was accused of steroid use in the Mitchell Report (a
report by former Maine (D) Senator George Mitchell disclosing a 21-month investigation of human growth hormone use in MLB). Clemens later denied these allegations before Congress under oath, which led Congressional leaders to refer Clemens to the Justice Department to consider a perjury (lying under oath) charge. In August 2010, Clemens was indicted by a grand jury on six felony counts including obstruction of Congress. Following some delays, the (for all intents and purposes) ‘Clemens perjury trial’ started just 9 days ago. Now, it’s over. How could this be?
Before the trial began, certain evidence was removed and determined inadmissible by presiding Judge Reggie Walton. Said evidence was audio/video of Andy Pettitte’s wife speaking about her husband’s statements regarding Clemens and performance enhancing drugs. Essentially, the evidence was wiped from the record once Judge Walton ruled it inadmissible. And repeatedly, prosecution was warned not to present said evidence. Be that as it may, prosecution began its case yesterday morning by showing said evidence to the jury via videotape. Whaa?! Clemens’s defense team swooped on the misstep like vultures on carrion, and before anyone in the courtroom knew what happened, Judge Walton ruled a mistrial. Basically, the evidence was so prejudicial, that the case could not have gone on in the interest of fairness. Walton was rightfully frustrated and placed the blame entirely on the shoulders of prosecution proclaiming a “first-year law student” would have avoided the mistake. Hey, thanks Judge!
So what happens now?
The government will, in my opinion, attempt to try the case again after a September 2nd hearing to determine whether to hold a new trial–hopefully with…wait for it…new prosecutors.
The defense on the other hand will file a motion claiming that any attempt to “re-try” Clemens will amount to double jeopardy (a rule stemming from the 5th amendment prohibiting a criminal defendant from standing trial twice for the same crime).
I’m not sure how much credit to give to Clemens’s lawyer Rusty Hardin here. Perhaps Clemens just got really, really lucky. After all, the prosecution was warned, repeatedly. In any case, that won’t answer the question that’s going to keep people up at night: Why did this evidence get leaked into the courtroom?
What say you?