Mistrial Declared Following Juror’s Suicide Threat

by Rick Wetzel on November 23, 2011

The San Antonio Express-News reports a jury hearing a murder case against a San Antonio mother accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter sent three notes to the judge yesterday.  All of the notes indicated that the jury was hung, 11-1.  It wasn’t clear from the first two notes whether the majority wanted to acquit, convict of murder, or convict of the lesser included offense of injury to a child.

A Show-Stopper

However, the third note from the jury was a show-stopper sufficient to derail the trial.  The note informed the trial judge that one of the jurors was threatening to kill himself if he had to vote to convict in the case.  The judge promptly declared a mistrial and the mother is expected to be retried early next year.  Defense counsel was quoted as saying “Never in all my years of practice have I had a note like that . . . This juror decided what his vote was, and he was not going to bend.”

The Unanimity Requirement

Under the Texas Constitution and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a jury’s verdict must be unanimous in all felony cases.  Jefferson v. State, 189 S.W.3d 305, 311 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006); TEX. CONST. art. V, § 13; TEX. CRIM. PROC. CODE art. 36.29(a).  A jury must unanimously convict a defendant of a single, specific offense, but it need not unanimously agree as to any particular theory of how the defendant committed that offense.  See Stuhler v. State, 218 S.W.3d 706, 716-719 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); Jefferson, 189 S.W.3d at 312; Sanchez v. State, 182 S.W.3d 34, 63 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2005), aff’d, 209 S.W.3d 117 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006).

It’s Over

Sometimes the right result is reached at the trial court level and the services of a Texas criminal appeals lawyer are not needed.  Had the judge required the jurors to continue to deliberate even in the face of probable bodily injury to one of the jurors, and the mother been convicted, strong grounds would be available for any ensuing criminal appeals or Texas habeas corpus action.

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