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State v. Tyler

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 3, 2019

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Terrance Christopher Tyler, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable James S. Hill, Judge.

          Mindy L. Anderson, Assistant State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Caitlyn A. Pierson, Minot, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          JENSEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Terrance Tyler appeals from a judgment entered following his conviction for Aggravated Assault in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-17-02(1)(a). Tyler contends that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motions for mistrial when the victim became unavailable to provide additional testimony after testifying earlier in the trial, the district court improperly altered the order of the trial, and the unavailability of the victim to provide additional testimony resulted in a manifest injustice. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I

         [¶2] Tyler was charged with Aggravated Assault in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-17-02(1)(a) following an altercation with the victim. The victim was subpoenaed by the State and was called as a witness during the presentation of the State's case. Following her direct testimony, the victim was subject to cross-examination by Tyler's counsel. At the conclusion of her testimony, the district court informed the victim she had not been released from her subpoena, excluded the victim from the courtroom, and told the victim she could be recalled as a witness for either the State or the Defendant.

         [¶3] The victim went into premature labor after her testimony and before the start of the next day of trial. Tyler moved for a mistrial asserting he was prejudiced by the unavailability of the victim to provide additional testimony. The district court denied the motion for a mistrial. The State called three additional witnesses and rested its case. Tyler moved for a mistrial for a second time based on the absence of the victim and the district court again denied the request for a mistrial. Tyler immediately requested that the district court allow the victim to be recalled to testify by telephone, the State opposed, and the district court denied the request to recall the victim as a witness by telephone.

         [¶4] On appeal Tyler contends that the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for a mistrial. He argues the district court erred by relying on his failure to express his intention at the end of the victim's testimony that the victim would be called as a witness during presentation of his case. He also argues the district court abused its discretion by altering the order of trial without providing notice to Tyler. Finally, he argues the victim's absence was a manifest injustice requiring a mistrial.

         II

         [¶5] A district court has broad discretion in ruling on a motion for a mistrial and will not be reversed on appeal unless the court clearly abused its discretion or a manifest injustice would occur. State v. Rende, 2018 ND 33, ¶ 5, 905 N.W.2d 909. An abuse of discretion may occur when the district court misinterprets or misapplies the law, or when the district court acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious manner. Id. A mistrial is an extreme remedy which should be granted only when there is a fundamental defect or occurrence in the proceedings that makes it clear that further proceedings would be productive of manifest injustice. Id.

         [¶6] Tyler asserts that the district court abused its discretion through a misapplication of the law when the court noted that after the victim had testified as a witness for the State, Tyler had failed to inform the court the victim would be called during Tyler's case as a witness. Tyler asserts that requiring a defendant to disclose who the defendant may call as a witness violates N.D.R.Crim.P. 16 limiting the obligation to disclose witnesses to the State.

         [¶7] We have previously recognized, in the context of a motion for a new trial, the district court has broad discretion when a material witness is unavailable through no fault of either party and a defendant fails to demonstrate prejudice. State v. Lemons, 2004 ND 44, ¶ 23, 675 N.W.2d 148. A district court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, unreasonably, or capriciously in denying a party's motion for a new trial. Rogers v. State, 2017 ND 271, ¶ 11, 903 N.W.2d 730. See Flatt v. Kantak, 2004 ND 173, ¶ 16, 687 N.W.2d 208, 219 (considering the district court's ruling, as a whole, to determine whether the district court had abused its discretion).

         [¶8] The district court's references to Tyler's failure to indicate the victim would be recalled as a defense witness were not made in isolation and were made in the context of assessing what should be done about an unavailable witness. The witness here had testified the day before during the State's case-in-chief. At the end of her testimony, the witness remained subject to the State's subpoena to appear, was sequestered from the courtroom, and was informed she may be called to provide further testimony. The district court's denial of the request for a mistrial was not limited to referencing Tyler's failure to express an intent to recall the victim, but also included the following: an observation Tyler had not made an "offer of proof," an observation there had been "no suggestion of what testimony she [the victim] might or would or could give if she were placed on the witness stand," an observation the victim had testified and been subject to cross-examination ...


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