Thursday, June 9, 2011

Altoids, Curiously Causing Mistrials

PennLive.com has the report of the mistrial motion caused by Altoids.  Apparently, Michael Crawford, the down and out brother of the Harrisburg, Pa mayor, is on trial for holding himself as a paralegal and obtained thousands of dollars from a local man for promised help in presenting a medical malparctice claim.  Mr. Crawford is on trial for grand larceny.  A situation developed when a police officer passed around Altoids to the jury during a sidebar conference prompting the mistrial motion.  This is Matthew Kemeny's account for the Patriot-News:

An attorney representing Michael Crawford -- the estranged brother of Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson -- requested a mistrial this afternoon in Cumberland County Court after a North Middleton police officer shared his can of Altoids peppermints with jurors during a break in the trial.

The court spent about 15 minutes on the breath-mint issue, getting testimony from Crawford and the officer, Danny Fiber. In the end, Judge J. Wesley Oler decided [the provision of breath mints to jurors by the police representative] didn't merit a mistrial.


During a break in the trial before lunch, Cumberland County Public Defender and Senior Assistant District Attorney Dan Sodus approached the judge about a legal matter. While this was going on, Fiber took out an Altoids can. A juror gave Fiber an "up-nod" and pointed at the mints, "which I thought meant he was interested in enjoying one," Fiber testified.

For sanitary reasons, Fiber testified he gave the entire tin of mints to the juror, who proceeded to share them with other jurors before returning it.  

[The defendant Mr. Crawford,] 62, testified he didn't see any of the jurors ask for a mint. He said he saw at least eight jurors ingest the mints before returning them to the officer.  Crawford is accused of leading 76-year-old Dale Raudabaugh to believe he was a paralegal who could help Raudabaugh file a lawsuit over his medical condition, North Middleton Township police said.

In March, Crawford pleaded no contest to theft by deception and witness intimidation and agreed to pay $5,000 in restitution to Raudabaugh. Crawford changed his plea last week before Oler and said he's innocent.
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I'm actually kind of surprised that the Judge didn't declare a mistrial.  It might seem trivial, but certainly any guilty verdict is tainted by this trivial episode.  A little mint can be curiously strong.  Of such things appellate cases are launched.

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