Notable Canadian mistrials

The defence team in the Dustin Paxton torture trial failed to convince a judge to stay the charges against him and declare a mistrial, but several prominent Canadian cases have been derailed before a verdict was reached. We take a closer look at several of them.

Procedural hiccups that have derailed criminal cases

Erika Mendieta was convicted of manslaughter in 2011 in a judge-alone trial after her first jury trial was deemed a mistrial because someone in the public gallery was making strange and distracting faces during her testimony. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

On Feb. 6, a Calgary judge said he would not stay the charges against Dustin Paxton, accused of torturing his roommate for 18 months between 2008 and 2010.

Paxton's lawyers had applied for a stay, claiming that Paxton had not received a fair trial. The defence maintained that a detective in the case had visibly prompted a key witness in the courtroom and that there was a delay in the disclosure of some of the evidence against Paxton.

Here's a look at some notable Canadian trials that did end in mistrials or were otherwise derailed.

Lost to translation

In January of this year, a judge in Brampton, Ont., declared a mistrial in a sexual assault case against Vishnu Dutt Sharma, an Indian citizen on a work permit in Canada. The defendant only spoke Hindi, and the mistrial was called because the interpreter's version of the testimony was deemed poor.

For example, the interpreter — identified in court documents only by her initials, A.K. — translated "physical" assault as "sexual" assault and "a couple of weeks" as "two days." Audiotapes from the cross-examination were sent to a member of the New York State Bar, who claimed that the interpreter spoke "perfect Hindi but could not keep up with the speed required for simultaneous interpretation."

A similar thing happened in a sexual assault case in Cambridge, Ont., in 2003, when the trial of Maximo Medina-Rivas was thrown out because of a bad translation of evidence from Spanish to English.

Montreal lawyer withdraws from case

In 2011, a Montreal judge threw out the case against Nigel Rudolph John, accused of second-degree murder in the November 2009 death of taxi driver Mohammed Nehar-Belaid. The reason: John’s lawyer, Joseph La Leggia, withdrew from the case "for medical and personal reasons."

La Leggia is said to have been disheartened about the brutal beating of a fellow Montreal lawyer, who had been representing members of the Hells Angels. La Leggia himself had been assaulted outside his home in 2010. Some media speculated that it was part of a larger campaign of intimidation being carried out against Montreal lawyers defending suspected gang members.

Strange faces

In 2010, Ontario Justice Nola Garton declared a mistrial in the second-degree murder trial of Erika Mendieta after a man in the public gallery was said to be making bizarre and distracting faces at the defendant during her testimony. The man in question was Paul Alexander, an assistant Crown attorney who had prosecuted Mendieta's first trial, which ended in 2009 with a hung jury.

The case was tried again before judge a alone, and in January 2011, Judge Nola Garton found Mendieta guilty of manslaughter in the November 2003 beating death of her two-year-old daughter, Emmily Lucas.

Conflicted jury

In 1991, the murder trial of Rui-Wen Pan was dismissed after one of the jurors sent the judge a note saying she felt pressured by other jurors. Her fellow jurors, in turn, complained that she had psychological problems, physical impairments and was talking to other people about the trial.

The judge called a mistrial. It was the second mistrial in this convoluted case, after a hung jury. A third jury eventually convicted Pan.