Is a Defendant Entitled To Transcript of a Prior Mistrial?

By June 7, 2011Jury Trial

Defendant entitled to transcript of mistrial.Blackshear v. State (link not working for now) 14th District Court of Appeals (Houston) 2011.

In Blackshear, the jury convicted appellant of possession of a controlled substance, but could not agree on an appropriate sentence. The judge declared a mistrial for the sentencing portion of the case. The State, which did not put on any evidence during the initial sentencing phase, decided to recall some of the trial witnesses during the new sentencing hearing to give the new jurors a better taste of the evidence. Accordingly, the appellant requested a continuance so that he could obtain a transcript of the prior trial in order to prepare a proper defense during the new sentencing hearing. The trial court, however, was more interested in a speedy disposition and denied the request for a continuance, empaneled a new jury the very same day, and conducted the sentencing hearing the following day. On appeal, the 14th COA held that it was error for the trial court to deny the continuance. The appellant had a presumptive right to the transcript that the State did not rebut. Here’s how the court explained it:

The State must, as a matter of equal protection, provide indigent prisoners with the basic tools of an adequate defense or appeal when those tools are available for a price to other prisoners. Among these basic tools is a transcript of prior proceedings when needed for an effective defense or appeal. In determining whether a defendant needs a transcript, the Britt court took two factors into account: (1) the value of the transcript to an effective defense, and (2) the availability of alternative devices that would fulfill the same functions as a transcript.

 In considering the first factor, the Britt court noted that “our cases have consistently recognized the value to a defendant of a transcript of prior proceedings, without requiring a showing of need tailored to the facts of the particular case.” Ordinarily, the court concluded, a transcript of a prior mistrial is valuable to the defendant in at least two ways: as a discovery device in preparation for trial, and as a tool at the trial itself for the impeachment of prosecution witnesses. The Court of Criminal Appeals has expressly presumed a defendant’s need for a transcript and has imposed upon the State the burden to rebut the presumption.

An easy decision for the 14th COA in Blackshear. “Blackshear’s counsel should have been able to use the transcript from the first trial in his cross-examination in the second.” The trial court denied the request. No transcript = remand for new sentencing hearing.