What is a motion for a new trial?

A motion for a new trial asks the judge to grant a new trial after a verdict of guilty. There are several reasons a judge might grant a new trial.

The California Penal Code sets forth the conditions when a Court may grant a new trial:

“When a verdict has been rendered or a finding made against the defendant, the court may, upon his application, grant a new trial, in the following cases only:

1. When the trial has been had in his absence except in cases where the trial may lawfully proceed in his absence;

2. When the jury has received any evidence out of court, other than that resulting from a view of the premises, or of personal property;

3. When the jury has separated without leave of the court after retiring to deliberate upon their verdict, or been guilty of any misconduct by which a fair and due consideration of the case has been prevented;

4. When the verdict has been decided by lot, or by any means other than a fair expression of opinion on the part of all the jurors;

5. When the court has misdirected the jury in a matter of law, or has erred in the decision of any question of law arising during the course of the trial, and when the district attorney or other counsel prosecuting the case has been guilty of prejudicial misconduct during the trial thereof before a jury;

6. When the verdict or finding is contrary to law or evidence, but if the evidence shows the defendant to be not guilty of the degree of the crime of which he was convicted, but guilty of a lesser degree thereof, or of a lesser crime included therein, the court may modify the verdict, finding or judgment accordingly without granting or ordering a new trial, and this power shall extend to any court to which the cause may be appealed;

7. When the verdict or finding is contrary to law or evidence, but in any case wherein authority is vested by statute in the trial court or jury to recommend or determine as a part of its verdict or finding the punishment to be imposed, the court may modify such verdict or finding by imposing the lesser punishment without granting or ordering a new trial, and this power shall extend to any court to which the case may be appealed;

8. When new evidence is discovered material to the defendant, and which he could not, with reasonable diligence, have discovered and produced at the trial. When a motion for a new trial is made upon the ground of newly discovered evidence, the defendant must produce at the hearing, in support thereof, the affidavits of the witnesses by whom such evidence is expected to be given, and if time is required by the defendant to procure such affidavits, the court may postpone the hearing of the motion for such length of time as, under all circumstances of the case, may seem reasonable.

9. When the right to a phonographic report has not been waived, and when it is not possible to have a phonographic report of the trial transcribed by a stenographic reporter as provided by law or by rule because of the death or disability of a reporter who participated as a stenographic reporter at the trial or because of the loss or destruction, in whole or in substantial part, of the notes of such reporter, the trial court or a judge, thereof, or the reviewing court shall have power to set aside and vacate the judgment, order or decree from which an appeal has been taken or is to be taken and to order a new trial of the action or proceeding.”

(Pen. Code, § 1181 [bold added].) The First District Court of Appeal described the non-statutory grounds for a new trial as follows:

“The power to grant a new trial on such nonstatutory grounds obviously is derived from the trial court’s constitutional duty to insure an accused a fair trial. (See In re Saunders, 2 Cal.3d 1033, 1041 [88 Cal. Rptr. 633, 472 P.2d 921].) As said in People v. Lyons, 47 Cal.2d 311, 319 [303 P.2d 329], ‘It is axiomatic that when an accused is denied that fair and impartial trial guaranteed by law, such procedure amounts to a denial of due process of law . . . .’ And, of course, a constitutional duty may not be abridged by statute.

In the instant case the trial court in its discretion reasonably concluded, on the substantial showing made, that without fault on his part the defendant had not received a fair trial.

In passing on a motion for a new trial the trial court has very broad discretion, and reviewing courts are reluctant to interfere with a decision granting or denying such a motion unless there is a clear showing of an abuse of discretion. ( People v.Robarge, 41 Cal.2d 628, 633 [262 P.2d 14].) We find no abuse of discretion here.”

(People v. Davis (1973) 31 Cal.App.3d 106, 110-111 [106 Cal.Rptr. 897].)