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Sanders-El v. Wencewicz

Citation. 987 F.2d 482 (8th Cir. 1993)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sued police officers that injured him during his arrest. The first trial resulted in a hung jury and the second resulted in a verdict for Defendants.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When errors have a significantly prejudicial effect on the jury, the parties must be granted a new trial.


Plaintiff Sanders-El was pulled over and arrested based on an outstanding warrant. When he was in the back of the police car he kicked the door open and fled. In catching him, Defendants, the officers that pursued him, caused injuries to his face and eye. Plaintiff Sanders-El filed suit under § 1983 alleging that Defendants used excessive force in capturing and arresting him. The first trial resulted in a hung jury and the second returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. Plaintiff Sanders-El appealed, arguing there were multiple prejudicial errors that resulted in the jury verdict for Defendants.


Must the parties be granted a new trial when errors have a significant prejudicial effect on the jury?


Yes, the parties must be granted a new trial when errors have a significant prejudicial effect on the jury.


Justice Circuit Judge Bowman dissenting

The trial court deserves a high level of discretion in mistrial cases. This court is reviewing the record without context about the factors the trial judge used in determining whether Plaintiff Sanders-El was entitled to a new trial based on Defendant’s counsel’s conduct. The record does not clearly indicate that the court abused its discretion. Therefore the holding below should be affirmed.


  1. Standard of review for a trial court’s denial for a motion for mistrial is abuse of discretion.
  2. The court erred in not finding that Defendant’s counsel’s conduct constituted mistrial. The biggest misconduct occurred when Defendant’s counsel theatrically dropped a lot of papers after cross-examining Sanders-El, making it seem as though he had been convicted of a lot of crimes.
  3. In a case where credibility is as important as it was here, Defendants’ counsel’s actions probably had a large impact on the jury. Especially since the court did not instruct the jury to ignore this occurrence.
  4. While the court did sanction Defendants’ counsel, it did not do enough to remedy the prejudice done to Plaintiff Sanders-El.
  5. The case is reversed and remanded for a new trial.

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