Superior Court: Mistrials are unusual

Since joining the Judiciary in 2001, Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto Naraja has never had to declare a mistrial. That is, until recently. He believes that mistrials are unusual.

In declaring a mistrial in CNMI v. Manolo Romolor jury trial last February, Naraja went into detail yesterday about the mistakes made by the prosecutor that gave the court no other choice but to order a mistrial.

“The court would like to note that this court has sat on this bench since November of 2001. It has seen many cases and a multitude of issues come before it. However, this is the first mistrial that this court has ever declared. Mistrials are unusual and only occur when there are exceptional mistakes. That was the unfortunate case here,” his order stated.

In his court order, Naraja cited the excessive number of times the prosecution committed an act of prosecutorial misconduct—counting 14 different circumstances where the Commonwealth mischaracterized a witness’ testimony, many hearsay issues, multiple instances where when the Commonwealth failed to establish adequate foundation to elicit testimony, excessive leading/excessive repetition of testimony despite multiple court warnings, and 10 difference circumstances where the victim was referred to by first name. Additionally, the court also issued 10 curative instructions to the jury, and at least five sidebars were called.

“It is abundantly clear that prosecutorial misconduct occurred. Over the eight to 10 hours of testimony in this trial, the defendant brought at least 80 objections, of which 70 were sustained. These were outstanding numbers. Seasoned and well-prepared attorneys do not have a large amount of technical objections. Many of the defendant’s objections against the Commonwealth were technical in nature,” it stated.

The order recognized, though, that the misconduct was not meant intentionally to result in a mistrial but, instead, was the result of lack of preparedness.

“Instead, the court believes that the Commonwealth’s problems originate from a serious lack of preparation. The Commonwealth brought this upon itself. It was their purposeful handling of the case and their lack of preparation for the trial that was the cause for the prosecutorial misconduct,” the order stated.

Because of this, the Commonwealth was still allowed to re-try Romolor on the same charges of sexual assault.

A new jury trial for Romolor is set for May 13, 2019.

Kimberly Bautista Bautista
Kimberly Bautista is the youngest in the stable of Saipan Tribune reporters. She has covered a wide range of beats, including the community, housing, crime, and education, for the Saipan Tribune.
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