Review Of Mistrial and Partial Dismiss of an Indictment Involving a Deadly Head-On Collision
Appellate Docket No.: A-4432-19
Decided April 26, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent published decision, the Appellate Division reviewed a judge’s order for mistrial and partial dismiss of an indictment involving a deadly head on collision after defendant’s blood sample was mixed up with the deceased.
In State v. Zadroga, this criminal prosecution arises out of a head-on collision that killed a passenger in defendant’s car. Defendant, Stephen A. Zagroda, had driven his car into oncoming traffic, and an accident reconstruction expert estimated he had been speeding at over 80 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone at the moment of impact. His blood sample was extracted at a hospital later that day, yielding apparent test results from the State Police laboratory of blood alcohol content (“BAC”) well over the legal limit.
A grand jury charged defendant with aggravated manslaughter, death by auto, and three intoxication-based assault offenses. A few days after the ensuing jury trial commenced, and following the testimony of seven witnesses for the State, a testifying hospital nurse identified an inconsistency in the lab results. That disclosure, in turn, revealed the State had inadvertently misattributed the blood sample of a deceased hospital patient to defendant, which the hospital had mistakenly released, and which the State then failed to authenticate. In addition, it came to light that defendant’s own blood sample had been irretrievably lost.
The trial judge declared a mistrial and found that, pursuant to Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), the State had acted in bad faith in its misattribution of the blood sample. The judge denied defendant’s motion to dismiss all five charges with prejudice, but he did dismiss with prejudice the three counts of the indictment that hinged on defendant’s intoxication, and thus his BAC level.
Defendant appealed, arguing that under the circumstances and in light of the State’s bad faith, the entire indictment should be dismissed. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that a mistrial is an exception to double jeopardy, permitting the Court to partially dismiss the indictment and allow the case to proceed with just the speed of defendant’s vehicle at issue instead of the alcohol.
This case is important to understand that normally double jeopardy triggers when the jury is sworn. From this point, if there is an acquittal, defendant cannot be tried again for the same crime. An exception to this is a mistrial, which can happen for a variety of reasons. The decision to dismiss the indictment at this point rests solely with the trial court. Be sure to have an experienced defense attorney on your side to ensure all legal procedure is followed appropriately, otherwise they can move for a mistrial.
If you have been charged with any first degree crime, second degree crime, third degree crime, fourth degree crime, disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or traffic ticket / DUI/DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.
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