Criminal Justice

Defendant's Attack on Own Counsel and Attempted Escape from Court Not Grounds for Mistrial

A criminal defendant’s attack on his own counsel and court officers in front of the jury deciding the case, followed by an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the courtroom, is not grounds for a mistrial, a New Jersey appeals court has for the first time held.

Deciding a novel issue, a state Superior Court Appellate Division opinion (PDF) issued on Friday said that a limiting instruction given to the jury both at the time of the incident and before deliberations began was sufficient. The defendant, Anthony Montgomery, was also given new defense counsel after the attack.

A trial judge has discretion to determine whether a mistrial should be granted, and the trial judge in Montgomery’s case found both that his misconduct had been intentional and that the jurors were not prevented by his outburst from rendering a fair verdict, the opinion notes.

“In view of the overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt in this case, and his knowledge of his sentence exposure, we conclude that defendant’s courtroom outburst was not the result of ‘pent-up’ frustrations or stress; rather, it was a deliberate, calculated attempt to cause a mistrial,” the court writes. “A defendant cannot engage in courtroom misconduct, especially assaulting his attorney and fighting with sheriff’s officers, and then expect to be rewarded with a mistrial or new trial for his or her egregious behavior, where, as here, the judge took appropriate cautionary measures.”

A number of other jurisdictions have reached the same conclusion in similar cases, which are cited in the opinion.

Montgomery was sentenced to life without parole after being convicted of first-degree carjacking and multiple associated offenses.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

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