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North Dakota Supreme Court orders new trial in soliciting case

The North Dakota Supreme Court has ordered a retrial for a Grand Forks man found guilty in March 2008 of soliciting a 12-year-old girl.

Cornell Scutchings was accused of making advances toward the girl on several occasions in March and April of 2007 in Grand Forks. He was sentenced to two years behind bars.

But Scutchings attorney Gretchen Handy motioned for a mistrial, citing a prosecutor's comments on her client's choice not to testify.

According to the state Supreme Court, prosecutor Meredith Larson during closing arguments told the jury: "The witnesses that you heard from yesterday are the State's witnesses. The Defendant has no constitutional burden to testify. The only thing you can consider are the State's witnesses and any cross-examination by the defense counsel. What do you have to refute (the 12-year-old girl's) testimony? Nothing. There's no reasonable doubt in this case."

The state argued that its comments weren't improper but were made to emphasize the strength of its case.

Judge Joel Medd denied the motion for a mistrial, but the state Supreme Court order a new trial.

Criminal defendants have a constitutional right not to testify, and juries are instructed not to consider such silence when deliberating.