Law School Case Brief
State v. Harmon - 956 P.2d 262 (Utah Sup.Ct. 1998)
Because a trial court is in the best position to determine an alleged error's impact on the proceedings, an appellate court will not reverse a trial court's denial of a mistrial motion based on prosecutorial misconduct absent an abuse of discretion. This standard is met only if the error is substantial and prejudicial such that there is a reasonable likelihood that in its absence, there would have been a more favorable result for the defendant. For purposes of determining whether a mistrial should have been granted, the appellate court's overriding concern is that defendant received a fair trial.
Defendant Larry Harmon saw two men, including Thomas, around his cabin and called out for them to leave. Defendant, while driving his truck around to check his neighbors' cabins, saw the men again and shot them. After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of murder and attempted murder. Defendant appealed, arguing that the following three errors occurred at trial: first, during cross-examination of defendant, the prosecutor elicited a statement Harmon had made in a police interview following the shooting which notified the jury that Harmon had invoked his constitutional right to remain silent; second, during direct examination of a deputy who had interviewed Thomas, the prosecutor elicited testimony regarding the deputy's opinion as to Thomas's credibility; and third, Harmon cites six instances of prosecutorial misconduct, wherein the prosecutor repeatedly attempted to "impugn the integrity of defense counsel." Defendant argued that he was entitled to a new trial.
Was the defendant entitled to a new trial based on the alleged errors which occurred during the previous one?
The Court affirmed defendant’s conviction, holding that denying defendant's mistrial motion was not erroneous where the prosecutor elicited a statement that defendant invoked his Miranda rights because the prosecutor did not use the post-Miranda silence to undermine defendant's constitutional rights. Further, the Court found that a deputy's comment about the victim's truthfulness was not so prejudicial and devastating to defendant as to vitiate the mitigating effect of the court's curative instruction. The Court concluded that the prosecutor's misconduct in repeatedly attempting to impugn the integrity of defendant's counsel was not substantial or prejudicial such that there was a reasonable likelihood the trial outcome would have been more favorable to defendant in the absence of the error. Finally the Court held that the cumulative effect of the errors did not undermine its confidence that defendant received a fair trial.
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