Mistrials in a Court Case – Potential Procedural Mess Up May Lead to Mistrial in Parkland School Shooting Case

April 11, 2022 Criminal Defense

The infamous and horrible Parkland High School massacre is finally starting its court procedures. On Monday, April 4th, jury selection began in the courtroom. There are several steps required to properly follow jury selection procedure. The potential jurors being selected must agree to follow all of the laws, as well as attest that they can act fairly and impartially in handing down a verdict.  

Though only two days into the process, there have already been challenges. Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer has been criticized for procedural issues involving eleven potential jurors. After what the defense and prosecution believe to be a mistake in court procedures, there are talks of filing a mistrial motion.

The confusion came when the eleven jurors who claimed they would not be able to follow the law during the case were immediately released, without any further questioning from the defense.

So, what happened? A review of reasons for mistrials in a criminal case, along with the specific case of the Parkland High School shooting will all be covered. To read more about another case related to the tragedy at Parkland High School, read our blog post here.

Common Reasons for Mistrial

During a criminal court case, there are specific steps that need to be followed. If there is an error that rises to the level of mistrial, then there is the option for the prosecution to either pursue a second trial or drop the case altogether. The following list is common reasons that a mistrial could occur in a criminal case:

  • Misconduct from the jury – When a person is assigned a position as a juror, there are specific rules that must be followed. This includes not speaking to witnesses or attorneys, as well as not watching television. If any of the rules are broken by the jury, it could lead to a mistrial. To read more about juror misconduct, read our blog post here.
  • No unanimous verdict from the jury – The jury must reach a unanimous decision in a criminal case, specifically pertaining to a capital case where there is the sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. To read more about cases with non-unanimous jury verdicts, read our blog here.
  • Improperly drawn jury – There is a process completed by the prosecution, defense, and judge on how to select jurors in a criminal case. Typically, the sought-after jurors will have no knowledge of the criminal case. The judge could potentially call a mistrial if either side has used improper practices to select the jury members, or if a juror lied during the selection process.
  • Evidence was shown that should not have been – The only evidence shown to the jury should be admissible under the applicable rules of evidence. If there is a mistake made where inadmissible evidence is shown to the jury, there could be a call for mistrial. In addition, if attorneys make improper statements to the jury about their arguments or examination of witnesses, it could also result in a mistrial.
  • A key figure is no longer available – If for any reason a key figure—including a member of the jury, attorney, or judge—is no longer available for trial through illness, death, or some other cause, there may be no choice but for the judge to call for mistrial.

It is important to note that while a mistrial prevents a guilty verdict, it does not immediately mean the defendant is declared innocent, or no longer needs legal representation. There are, however, opportunities for the defense team to take advantage of.

The prosecution will have to decide if they will seek a new trial by reinstating the charges. In some cases, the defense team may be able to convince the prosecution that there isn’t sufficient evidence to retry the defendant.

In the case of a mistrial, the process of selecting a jury would start over from the beginning. Receiving a new jury could be beneficial for the defense, as anything that prejudiced the accused person will not be within the new jury’s knowledge.

In addition, time is a big factor in the case of a mistrial. The trial process will be drawn out, which could benefit the defendant and the defense team. For example, the memory of an event from a witness may deteriorate or change over time, the longer the process is drawn out.

In the case of a mistrial, it is important to not get cocky and assume that the case is completely over. As a defendant, it is important to work closely with a skilled Florida defense attorney to figure out the best way to proceed with the next steps in the criminal case.

The Parkland School Shooting Procedural Issues

The Parkland school shooting case has just begun its jury selection in the courtroom. However, there have already been issues within the first two day that could possibly lead to a mistrial.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer excused eleven prospective jurors on April 5th, 2022, who claimed that they would be unable to follow the law as jurors. However, they were excused before the defense team was able to ask them any questions.

Tuesday was still only the first stage of jury selection. When Judge Scherer asked if there were any potential jurors who would have an issue with following the law, eleven people raised their hands and were released from the courtroom. Scherer addressed the prosecution and defense team by saying, “[t]hese are people that said they cannot and will not follow the law that I excused back to the jury room to serve on another case and the jury room immediately excused them.”

However, this question usually comes in phase two, which would happen in May. In phase one, the questions usually revolve around any hardships the potential jurors would have in staying on a case for months.

What followed was a tense encounter between Judge Scherer and the public defender, Melisa McNeill. The defense team had concerns that there was a procedural issue, and they requested to have some time to consider filing a mistrial motion.

When McNeill requested 24 hours to consider filing a mistrial motion, Judge Scherer was quick to shut it down. “No, I will give you five or ten minutes,” Sherer replied.

McNeill responded, “[y]ou are going to give me five or ten minutes to make a decision about whether I want to file, as for a mistrial in a 17 capital count murder case?” The full video can be seen here.

Judge Scherer argued that since they were only in the early stages of jury preselection, they still have several days to go and that she didn’t believe it was a reversible error. After a few more comments back and forth between the two, Judge Scherer ultimately decided to recess for the day. Meaning that the matter would be reconvened at a later date. Videos from the courtroom can be found here.

Even though the procedural issue could be grounds for filing a mistrial motion, it doesn’t mean the trial would completely end. Since it is still very early in the proceedings, if the defense did decide to move for a mistrial, then the pre-trial selection would just start over.

There are about 1,000 prospective jurors, in which the prosecution and defense need to find twelve with eight alternates. The selection of the jury typically takes two months, during which they will be required to answer questions from the prosecution, defense, as well as Scherer.

Nikolas Cruz, 23, is the defendant in the case, who took an AR-15 into the Florida high school, Parkland High, and shot 34 people in only seven minutes. Seventeen people were injured, and seventeen were killed. Cruz plead guilty to the crime back in October 2021, which includes 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. Cruz faces a minimum of life in prison or a maximum sentence of capital punishment.

Once the 12-person jury panel is selected, they will have to ultimately decide if Cruz will spend the rest of his life in prison or be sentenced to the death penalty.


David Weinstein, a legal analyst, and former state and federal prosecutor, addressed his concerns in a video posted on Twitter, with the potential procedural issues:

“Both sides as well as the judge are going to need to take it slow. Decisions shouldn’t be made in 5 to 10 minutes. It is important that the judge takes the time to draw on not only their own experience, but those of other judges who have done this before. This is not a misdemeanor or battery case, this is a case involving the death penalty, and so it needs to proceed in a much slower fashion and be deliberate, because in the end, no one wants to try this case twice.”

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is imperative to seek out the help of a skilled Florida defense attorney. The legal process can be daunting, and without the help of a reliable attorney, the defendant may feel lost. Make sure you have a defense attorney you can rely on, and who has experience handling trial issues.

Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across the state of Florida for various crimes. They will make sure you are fully informed of your rights and how to prepare the strongest defense for your case. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today. 

Written by Karissa Key

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