Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sanders-El v. Wencewicz case brief

Sanders-El v. Wencewicz case brief summary
987 F.2d 483 (8th Cir. 1993)

Plaintiff arrestee brought a 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri alleging use of excessive force by defendant police officers. The jury found for the police officers and the arrestee appealed.

During the trial on the arrestee's § 1983 claim against police officers, defense counsel, during cross-examination of the arrestee on the arrestee's prior criminal convictions, dropped a lengthy printout in front of the jury then proceeded to question the arrestee from the printout.


  • The district court denied the arrestee's motion for a mistrial. 
  • The court held that defense counsel's conduct was intended to arouse the prejudices of the jury and that the district court abused its discretion in denying the motion. 
  • The court noted that the nature of information defense counsel conveyed pertained to the arrestee's prior arrests and probation violations which the district court prohibited defense counsel from using for impeachment purposes. 
  • In finding that the error was prejudicial, the court noted that the case was close, the jury received no curative charge, and that defense counsel's conduct was not isolated or accidental. 
  • The court noted that before dropping the printout, defense counsel had improperly alluded to the arrestee's prior arrest record. 
  • The court added that the witnesses' credibility was important in the trial.
The court reversed and remanded for new trial.

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