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Danny Masterson trial hung jury gives defense team a second shot at this strategy

The choose presiding over the rape case towards “That ’70s Present” star Danny Masterson declared a mistrial Wednesday after the jury reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked.

A retrial has already been scheduled for March 27, so Masterson, 46, nonetheless faces as much as 45 years in jail if he’s convicted of raping three girls at his Hollywood Hills dwelling from 2001 to 2003. 

There’s an previous saying that there’s no sound louder in a legal courtroom than the defendant’s silence. It’s true.

The actor has denied all of the allegations. However he by no means advised the jury that instantly, as his attorneys by no means known as him to the stand — or some other witnesses. Why not? Why didn’t Masterson take the stand to disclaim these allegations towards him? Why didn’t the protection name any witnesses? And is it sensible for his authorized staff to deploy the identical technique at his subsequent trial?

In all probability essentially the most primary motive that Masterson’s attorneys didn’t name on him was that they didn’t must. A legal defendant is presumed to be harmless. Meaning the prosecution should show a defendant responsible past an affordable doubt. That is an instruction that judges give juries in legal circumstances in California state courts, the place Masterson’s case was heard. 

California juries are additionally instructed in some model of the next: A defendant has “an absolute constitutional proper to not testify.” The jury isn’t permitted to think about, for any motive in any respect, the truth that a defendant doesn’t testify. California juries are advised to not even talk about it throughout deliberations. It’s the thing-that-cannot-be-mentioned.

Because of this the defendant has no obligation to testify, current proof or name any witnesses. He can simply level to weaknesses within the prosecutor’s case. In different phrases, in rape circumstances, the evidentiary customary is never “he mentioned, she mentioned.” It’s extra like, “she mentioned, he mentioned nothing — and you’ll’t maintain that towards him.”

However that doesn’t imply a scarcity of protection witnesses has no influence on the jury. An individual accuses the defendant and describes what occurred. When the defendant says nothing, the one story within the report is the accuser’s. Are jurors purported to presume that the defendant’s nonstory — no matter it’s — is extra plausible than the accuser’s story? That’s not believable.

There’s an previous saying that there’s no sound louder in a legal courtroom than the defendant’s silence. It’s true. I don’t care what number of directions the choose offers to the jury in regards to the presumption of innocence and the defendant’s proper to not testify. A jury desires to listen to from a defendant.

The issue is: It’s typically simply too dangerous. And that’s why the choice to not put Masterson or different protection witnesses on the stand made sense.

Legal defendants testify in a minefield that accusers don’t. For starters, a legal defendant may inadvertently “open the door” to dangerous proof that in any other case could be inadmissible.

Think about Masterson had taken the stand and, underneath cross-examination, misplaced his composure just a bit. Not that he fully imploded, like Col. Nathan Jessup did on the witness stand within the traditional trial movie “A Few Good Males.” As a substitute, suppose he talked about one thing seemingly innocuous like: “I’m a superb man. I’m not a violent man.” Sounds innocent sufficient, however underneath the foundations of proof, he may as effectively have stepped on a claymore mine. 

Underneath these guidelines, the prosecution isn’t allowed to slime a defendant with proof of unrelated unhealthy issues he’s executed previously. But when the defendant himself takes the stand and introduces the difficulty of his personal good character, then it’s sport on. The prosecution can now introduce proof of unhealthy character. 

Sound complicated? It’s. It’s complicated to attorneys. Defendants testifying in their very own legal trial, with no authorized coaching and spiking adrenaline ranges, can’t presumably count on to navigate these guidelines with out endangering themselves — even when they’re well-known performers used to memorizing traces. (This was the situation that performed out when actor Amber Heard talked about ex-husband Johnny Depp’s former girlfriend Kate Moss in his defamation case towards her, which his attorneys then pounced on.) 

And the door-opening rule wouldn’t have utilized simply to Masterson however any witness the protection calls. That’s why it’s dangerous for a defendant to current proof in any respect. Defendants often relaxation with out calling any witnesses. 

Defendants testifying in their very own legal trial, with no authorized coaching and spiking adrenaline ranges, can’t presumably count on to navigate these guidelines with out endangering themselves.

If the defendant is making an attempt to show an alternate concept of the alleged crime, like “another dude did it” (typically known as SODDI amongst legal protection attorneys), then the defendant might must name witnesses. That didn’t seem like Masterson’s technique, nonetheless. His technique gave the impression to be easier, and much more widespread: “They’re mendacity.” If that is the protection’s battle plan, then it was in all probability safer to make use of their closing argument to level to inconsistencies within the state’s case, like an accuser’s lack of credibility or gaps in reminiscence. 

And even when the accuser’s testimony is usually plausible, that doesn’t imply it is going to be adequate to convict somebody. If the proof suggests the defendant was in all probability responsible, effectively, “in all probability responsible” isn’t “responsible.” The truth is, possible guilt is “not responsible,” since by definition it’s not guilt past an affordable doubt. An evaluation of possible guilt on the shut of the prosecution’s case is “successful” for the protection. 

If the protection then begins calling witnesses and issues go poorly, a defendant can lose a case he’d been successful. And if the defendant testifies and the jury disbelieves even one factor he says, it’s in all probability over. 

In the end, protection attorneys like me are principally danger averse. Nobody desires to be a cautionary story — the protection staff that was successful when the prosecution ended its case however misplaced due to the witnesses they then known as.

As a result of the primary trial has now led to a hung jury, the protection might rethink their unique technique. That the jury deadlocked in any respect signifies that it was a minimum of an in depth name. But it surely additionally means there have been some votes for a responsible verdict. Meaning the safer course could possibly be to once more decline to placed on a protection. A hung jury is best than a conviction.

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