Philadelphia Criminal Law News

Priest Sex-Abuse Case Could End with Hung Jury and Mistrial

You all know about the priest sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. You also know about how the scandal has hit the Philadelphia Archdiocese, with one former priest already pleading guilty to charges of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in 1999, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, the trial that was supposed to provide answers may end in a hung jury in the cases of Monsignor William Lynn and Reverend James Brennan, according to FOX29. The jury communicated in a note to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that it was in a "hung jury situation" for all but one of the five charges against Lynn and Brennan, according to the Inquirer.

The judge has instructed the jury to keep trying, but what if they cannot reach consensus?

The jury has been deliberating for 11 days, some of which had the jury asking to see evidence or rehear testimony, according to the Inquirer. The jury has also asked the judge many questions regarding the law and what is necessary for a conviction. The last two days of deliberations brought no questions from the jury.

The purpose of a jury is to determine what the facts are in a case. By determining the facts, the jury decides whether those facts fit the elements of the crime or civil claim levied against the defendant. The jury decides these factors in deliberations, where the group discusses the issues in secret and tries to come to an agreement among all jurors.

When jurors cannot agree and cannot compromise, they are called a "hung jury." Once it is determined that the jury is stuck, the court will declare a mistrial. While a mistrial may seem like it lets the priests off the hook, it does not. There are only rare instances when a mistrial precludes a new trial.

Here, it is likely that the mistrial will not preclude re-trying the case against Lynn and Brennan if the prosecution desires to do so. Since the requirement to allow a new trial is that the mistrial was due to "manifest necessity," a new trial will be allowed because the hung jury was not avoidable by those involved in prosecuting or defending the case.

If mistrial is declared, Msgr. William Lynn and Rev. James Brennan could be back in court for a new trial and we will be again court-watching to see what happens.

Related Resources: