Everyone has heard of hung juries and mistrials and while most people understand that a hung jury occurs when the jurors cannot come to a unanimous decision, fewer know that hung juries result in mistrials (other things can cause mistrials too, more on that later). Even fewer still understand what happens when a mistrial is declared. Here’s a basic explanation of mistrials and hung juries, courtesy of Oceanside Criminal Attorney Peter M. Liss.
What Causes a Mistrial?
A number of things can result in a mistrial. While a hung jury is the best-known reason for a mistrial, they can also happen if a judge, lawyer or juror dies during the trial, if evidence has been tampered with, if witnesses dropped out of the trial for one reason or another, if something seen or heard by the jury will influence their decision even if they have been told to disregard it, if there is reason to believe a judge, jury or lawyer involved in the case has acted in a prejudiced or suspicious manner, and for other reasons. Essentially, anything that will make the trial unfair to the defendant or the state or that interferes with the progress of the trial can result in a mistrial.
A judge can declare a mistrial on her own if she believes the case calls for it, or the defense or prosecutor may file motion for a mistrial, essentially asking the judge to declare a mistrial. When a motion for a mistrial has been made, the judge may agree to the motion or deny it and keep the trial moving forward.
What Happens After a Mistrial?
Three things can happen after a mistrial -each can be more or less likely depending on the reason for the mistrial. In the majority of cases, a mistrial will simply result in a retrial. While many people believe this violates the double jeopardy clause of the constitution, the fact that there was no verdict one way or the other in the case means that the mistrial is considered to have not happened. Anything that happened in the previous trial is irrelevant to the next trial. That being said, Oceanside defense lawyers often have an advantage in retrials because they have seen the prosecution in action and can build a new strategy based on that information.
In some cases, if a mistrial occurs, the defendant’s Oceanside criminal lawyer and the prosecution may choose to negotiate a plea bargain. This usually happens when the defense and the defendant agree that he is likely to be convicted and a plea bargain may reduce the penalties he will face. Typically a judge will poll the jury if it is hung and find out how many were for conviction or acquittal. A hung jury with several or more favoring acquittal will give the defense leverage to obtain a better plea bargain than what was offered before the trial.
Finally, the judge may rule that there is insufficient evidence or that there has been something so vitally wrong with the case that the charges should be dismissed altogether.
Mistrials resulting from hung juries can result in any of the three outcomes, however if a case has resulted in multiple hung juries, the judge may choose to dismiss the charges. If a mistrial was the result of prosecution misconduct, the case will usually dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be tried again.
If you have been charged with a crime or if you have any questions about the criminal process, please call Oceanside defense attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by Thad Zajdowicz