Criminal Appeals Clinic Case Gets Reversal

The Criminal Appeals Clinic at the University of Mississippi School of Law recently received good news regarding one of their current cases. On October 26, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the case of Donald Bell a/k/a Donald Wayne Bell v. State of Mississippi on grounds that the trial judge’s comments to the jury after they announced they were deadlocked were improper, and deviated from the procedures dictated in Sharplin v. State. Bell will receive a new trial.

The appellate brief was written by former law students Valerie Moss (JD 2016) and Philip Summa (JD 2015), who were in the Criminal Appeals Clinic at the time.

“I am thrilled by the reversal of this case,” said Moss. “It was clear from the precedent in this state that a judge cannot deviate from certain jury instructions and the trial judge clearly did here. I’m glad the Mississippi Supreme Court saw it this way too, and I’m glad our hard work paid off.”

Summa echoed Moss’ sentiments. “We were pleased to hear that the Court recognized that the trial court’s instructions to this deadlocked jury were inconsistent with the Sharplin standard,” he said.

According the opinion written by Presiding Justice Michael K. Randolph, “Sharplin curbs loose language from a trial judge which may have an unwitting coercive effect or influence on a juror. Without assigning an impermissible intent to the trial judge, we find his comments to the jurors before sending them back for further deliberations could be interpreted as improperly coercive and designed to produce a verdict. Therefore, we reverse Bell’s conviction and remand for a new trial.”

Phillip Broadhead, director of the Criminal Appeals Clinic, supervised Moss and Summa in this case. The Criminal Appeals Clinic offers advanced appellate training in the highly specialized area of appellate advocacy skills and provides third-year students with practical experience in criminal law and procedure. The students represent indigent persons as counsel of record in Mississippi appellate courts.