Post Trial Motions
After the verdict is announced, the defendant has the ability to submit post trial motions on a wide range of issues. These are aimed at some inadequacy of the verdict and are exclusively available to the defendant. The state is not allowed to fail to meet its burden of proof and then try again, as the process called double jeopardy will kick in. However, the state is allowed to appeal a variety of the trial court’s rulings, but that happens through different mechanisms and motions. Post trial motions are specifically restricted to a defendant who did not receive a just verdict.
Motion for a New Trial
Section 22-3501 permits the defendant to motion for a new trial in some situations. If it is in “the interest of justice” the court will grant the defendant’s motion. The court has a large amount of discretion when deciding whether to grant a motion or not. This motion can be submitted right after the violation or after the verdict is rendered. Usually these motions are made soon after trial, though the time frame can be extended in some situations. Discussed below are the four most common grounds a motion for a new trial are granted.
- Juror Misconduct
Juror misconduct happens when a juror “goes beyond the evidence.” This is commonly in the form of the juror personally investigating the crime scene or researching the case. It may seem like this is what a proactive juror should do, but it is not allowed. The trial process has changed throughout the years and is controlled by a specific set of evidence rules. The rules keep out unreliable evidence. It is too easy to find false information about a case online, and that is part of the reason a trial is conducted. At trial the weaknesses of evidence are flushed out, which a simple internet search cannot do. Another example is when a juror communicates with an outside source about the case. This leads to dangerously unreliable information possibly being used. If either type of this misconduct occurs, it can result in the case being retried in front of a new jury.
- Prosecutorial Misconduct
This is the most common reason a new trial is awarded. District attorneys are under tremendous pressure to secure convictions. This can lead to some prosecuting attorneys wrongly prioritizing wrongful convictions over no convictions. Closing arguments are where a district attorney usually commit misconduct. In State v. Magdaleno, the defense attorney’s credibility was criticized by the district attorney when they accused her of lying to the jury. These actions exceeded the bounds of what the jury is allowed to consider. The witness’ credibility was the issue at hand, therefore calling the opposing counsel a liar was a clear attempt at coercing the jury to decide this case on passion rather than the facts. Another instance is when the district attorney brings up the fact that a defendant did not testify during the trial. A defendant is allowed to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights and the state cannot try to persuade the jury to make an adverse inference from implanting such rights. Shady attorneys will try to reference this to the jury in order for them to decide the case upon evidence that they haven’t heard over what they have heard. An experience defense attorney will be prepared for this “indirect” adverse inference and the court is usually willing to permit a new trial if such declarations are given.
- Highly Prejudicial Errors
Errors will happen in about every trial. However, if an error occurs that is so serious that it deprives the defendant of a fair trial in some way or another, the judge can order a new trial. In State v. Phillips, the prosecution was ordered to produce a witness’ taped interview as their testimony at trial was different than the prior testimony. The district attorney stated they did not have the tapes with them at trial and the court determined the differing testimony was admissible. The Kansas Supreme Court did not agree and ordered the case to have a new trial. The tapes being absent was so prejudicial to the defendant’s case that the trial was considered unfair. This is a high standard. Thus, many occurrences of error, especially when a ruling based on evidence is at hand, do not warrant a new trial.
- Newly Discovered Evidence
Another way to be granted a new trial is if the defendant discovers new evidence. This motion is allowed within two years of the final judgement. In State v. Smith, the court held that three things have to be proven before a new trial is granted on these grounds. First, more than reasonable investigation by the defendant to discover the evidence is needed. Second, the newly discovered evidence must indicate a “reasonable probability” that the result of the trial would be changed. This second step seems manageable, but it is actually quite difficult to showcase. For instance, in Smith the defendant failed to satisfy this fact as the discovered evidence actually supported the state’s theory of how the events occurred. The courts have held that simply discovering new evidence doesn’t guarantee a new trial, rather the court has to be convinced that the new evidence will surmount all of the previously presented evidence in order to change the trial’s result. Thus, it is not common that newly discovered evidence results in a new trial being ordered.
Arrest of Judgment
This motion attempts to prohibit the court from entering the judgment after the jury’s verdict. The grounds of this demand are significantly narrow: either the court lacked jurisdiction over the charged crime or the charging documents failed to state a recognized criminal action. This motion is rare as it is among the first things a defense counsel will investigate once a defendant is charged. The court in State v. Sims added to the rarity of this motion, when the court stated that the evidence which was presented at trial is not viewed when deciding the motion. Rather, only the charging documents create the grounds necessary for this motion to be successful.
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