Motions for a New Trial
There are situations where the best chance to win a case is during the appeal process. Even long after a conviction, there could be valid reasons that a new trial should take place. Courts sometimes but not often will grant a new trial – if major errors are found to have occurred during the original trial. Or, a new trial could be granted if significant new evidence comes to light to suggest that the convicted person could be innocent.
In short, for a judge to accede to a motion for a new trial, there has to have been some type of mistake that prevented the defendant from being tried fairly.
Of course, motions for a new trial are common but are not often granted. A motion for a new trial is essentially a request for the court to overturn the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge, so there must be strong grounds for the request.
Legal Grounds for New Trial
Grounds for a motion for a new trial fall mostly into two areas:
New evidence has been discovered
In the interest of justice
Courts are crystal clear about what new evidence could bring a new trial. There are four general areas that have to be met for any new evidence to be considered for another trial:
New evidence is discovered that was not known about by the defense at trial
The new evidence has to be material and cannot just be cumulative
Failure to learn of the new evidence was not due to lack of diligence on part of the defense
New evidence is important enough that it could likely result in a different outcome if a new trial is allowed
A judge could grant a new trial due to newly discovered evidence if, for instance, the defense had searched for a key witness that can verify the alibi of the defendant and finally located him after the trial.
In the Interest of Justice
The motion for a new trial can be made if it appears there was some sort of judicial error or bias in the first trial. If there are any grounds for another trial because of a miscarriage of justice, the court can overturn the conviction and order a new trial.
An example where there might be a new trial would be if the judge incorrectly excluded evidence that could have made a difference in the case. This might occur if a judge ruled that testimony should not be included in the trial due to it being hearsay. However, an exception to the hearsay rule may have applied in that particular situation.
A motion for a new trial goes before the same judge who ruled over the first trial. So, it is unusual for the judge to find that he made a legal error. That said, a judge might realize that he made a mistake and will grant the motion for a new trial because he wants to avoid the case being overturned in an appeal.
Unlike in the discovery of new evidence, ‘in the interest of justice’ can be interpreted more broadly. This gives the court more discretion to determine if a new trial is needed. While there are no exact requirements to fulfill this provision, some of the points below could be grounds for a new trial to be granted:
Bias in the jury
Clear jury misconduct
Improper jury instructions given at trial
Lack of evidence to support the conviction
Prosecutorial misconduct, such as false prosecution, tampering with witnesses or evidence
Misconduct of the judge, such as the judge making improper comments to the jury, nor not responding appropriately to jury questions
Conflict of interest involving the judge in the case
In 2013, there was a federal case where the judge ordered a new trial for two restaurant owners who were convicted for harboring illegal aliens. The defense learned after their conviction that a juror made discriminatory comments against the defendants, who were Hispanic. When the new trial was granted, the judge stressed that every defendant is entitled to have 12 impartial jurors to decide a case.
Courts also have been known to grant a new trial when it is believed that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated, such as the right to remain silent.
How the New Trial Process Works
A defendant will usually make a motion for a new trial after the guilty verdict comes in. In some areas, the judge can order the new trial without the defense even requesting it. If the judge does not allow a new trial, you can appeal to ask a higher court to overrule the decision.
The prosecution cannot make motions for a new trial, due to the fact that the double jeopardy principle applies when there is an acquittal.
If the judge does grant the motion for a new trial, the case starts right at the beginning. Your attorney as well as the prosecution will try the case again with a new jury.