What is a Mistrial? What are some common grounds for a Mistrial?

When there’s a criminal trial, it would end in either guilty or not guilty. However, when there is a mistrial, the prosecution would either want to have a retrial or don’t choose to restart the trial at all. Whatever the prosecution decides, if they see that bringing out a conviction against the defendant is difficult, they would not pursue a retrial after a mistrial.

What is a Mistrial?

A mistrial is a trial in criminal law that concludes the case before a jury’s verdict. When a mistrial happens, it puts the case proceedings null and void. Also, if a prosecution wants to start another trial, they have to find new evidence and testimonies as the previously submitted testimonies and discoveries will not be applicable for a retrial. In simpler words, to have convictions against a defendant, a new trial will be started from the new beginning.

A mistrial motion can be raised from both sides (prosecution and defendant). Once the jury or sitting judge receives the motion, it is at his discretion if he accepts the motion and grants mistrial or simply rejects it or continues the case proceedings.

In addition, it is essential to understand that if a judge or jury panel grants a mistrial that doesn’t mean that the defendant or accused is acquitted and can freely leave the court. The defendant would only be called acquitted if the judge verdicts a not guilty statement after a mistrial or lack of evidence.

Common Mistrial grounds that prosecution always avoid

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For accepting a mistrial motion in a case, the following reasons can be taken into account by the judge;

Unavailability of an important figure 

In situations where a juror or an attorney becomes unavailable due to any reason of health or death, a mistrial of an ongoing case can be declared. A recent example of a mistrial is an infamous ‘sexual assault case against Bill Cosby. When a defense lawyer of the defendant couldn’t make it to the court due to exposure to Coronavirus symptoms – so the judge granted a mistrial.

Misconduct from a Juror

According to rule of law, the jurors should follow a certain manner while conducting a trial. They have to follow a strict court rule about the courtroom. If they are found performing in a way that is not according to the rule, the judge can declare a mistrial. For instance, a juror must not be discussing anything about the case with the people present in the courtroom during case proceedings. If they are found speaking to the people they are not allowed to, the judge has the discretion to declare mistral.

Insufficient or inadmissible evidence

The jurors are supposed to be providing the evidence that is acceptable by the court and should be relevant to the case. Additionally, if a prosecutor or defense lawyer makes an inappropriate statement that they should not be making during a trial, a judge may declare a mistrial. 

Improper drawing of a jury panel

Typically, a jury panel is selected by the judges and attorneys from the defendant and plaintiffs sides and make sure to select the jurors with no information and knowledge of the case in question. But a mistrial can be declared if the selection of the jury panel was not properly drawn.

Unable to make a unanimous decision

Almost all the states of the United States require that all the jurors of the jury panel must reach a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant. If all the jurors do not vote in a single decision or do not reach a unanimous verdict, a mistrial can be declared.

In criminal cases where the jury does not reach a decision, it is referred to as a ‘hung jury’.

Mistrial due to a hung jury

If a case is moving towards a mistrial due to a hung jury, the judge will deliberately allow the jury to look further in the evidence and come up with a unanimous decision so the accused would be charged. Sometimes, the jurors are also allowed to prepare a list of queries and information to ask from the answerable party to present in the next hearing to reach a unanimous verdict. Other times, a mistrial can be declared straight if the additionally provided information did not satisfy the jury.

Once a mistrial is declared because of a hung jury, the prosecution will decide how to proceed with the case to charge the defendant. Here, prosecutors have some options to consider. Either they take back the case and dismiss the charges levied or a plea bargain motion is submitted to the court.

If a case ends up by leaving charges by the prosecution or is dismissed, a defendant may be acquitted as the case ends. But if a mistrial is declared, a defendant will still have a liability to prove himself not guilty against the charges which can be raised in another trial and can bring possible convictions.

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