When Can Surprise Testimony by a State’s Witness Result in a Mistrial?

Texas prosecutors often rely on the testimony of alleged victims or eyewitnesses to obtain convictions for violent crimes. It is important to remember that witnesses are only human, and sometimes they will testify in a manner that the prosecution did not expect. Such surprise testimony may put the defense at a serious disadvantage by not allowing them to properly prepare in anticipation of such testimony. In some circumstances, the introduction of surprise testimony to the jury can be grounds for a mistrial, which could ultimately prevent a defendant from being convicted. The Texas Court of Appeals recently addressed a defendant’s appeal that surprise evidence introduced in his prosecution should have resulted in a mistrial.

In this recent case, a man had been charged with sexual assault after a woman alleged he picked her up from the side of the road and assaulted her at knifepoint. During the trial, there was a surprising revelation during the alleged victim’s testimony about her profession as a prostitute, which caused the defense to request a mistrial. The witness testified that she was working as a prostitute on the night of the assault, which the defense claimed was not disclosed by the prosecution, alleging a violation of the Brady rule, which requires the state to disclose exculpatory evidence. The trial court denied the defense motion, the defendant was convicted, and he appealed the mistrial ruling.

On appeal, the prosecution argued that they did not have prior knowledge of the witness’s profession because she mentioned it for the first time during her trial testimony. The prosecutor explained that the witness had come from out of state and hadn’t discussed the specifics of the case with the prosecution until just before taking the stand.

The defense argued that the State’s failure to disclose this information constituted prosecutorial misconduct and requested a mistrial, stating that the new testimony provided previously unknown details. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that a mistrial was not warranted. It noted that the defense had prior information suggesting the witness’s involvement in prostitution, such as her previous arrest and their ability to question potential jurors about this issue during voir dire.

The court found that the defense was not prejudiced by the late disclosure because they had sufficient notice to adapt their strategy. Furthermore, the court granted the defense additional time to gather information and adjust their approach, allowing them to cross-examine the witness on the new details. Ultimately, the court ruled that the state’s conduct did not meet the high threshold required for a mistrial. The complainant’s testimony about the assault remained consistent and supported by medical evidence, and the jury’s verdict was not deemed to have been affected by the delayed disclosure. The case demonstrates that surprise testimony can be grounds for a mistrial, but only if it causes significant prejudice that cannot be remedied by other means, such as a continuance or additional cross-examination.

Finding a Qualified Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime in Texas, selecting the right criminal defense attorney can make all of the difference. At Guest and Gray, we understand how and why prosecutors will manipulate witness testimony to their advantage, and we are prepared to challenge these tactics and assert your constitutional rights. If you have been arrested or charged with any crime in Texas, call us to see how we can help you fight the charges. At Guest and Gray, we represent people accused of all Texas crimes, including sex offenses. Reach out today for a free consultation to see if we can help.

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