Criminal trials typically end with either a guilty verdict (which the defendant can appeal) or a not guilty verdict (which the prosecution cannot appeal), but, in some cases, a mistrial occurs. When a mistrial does occur, the prosecution will generally have the right to bring a second trial, but they may choose not to if they do not want to use the resources to do so and/or if they believe they cannot win a conviction the second time around. Here are five common reasons mistrials occur.
The Jury Cannot Reach a Unanimous Verdict
Most states require that juries vote unanimously to convict a defendant. If the jury cannot reach an unanimous decision for a guilty verdict – and also do not find the defendant to be not guilty – then this will be a hung jury and the judge can declare a mistrial. This was the case in Bill Cosby’s 2017 rape trial, and prosecutors decided to bring a second trial.
A Juror Committed Misconduct
Jurors are given specific instructions on what they can and cannot do while in the jury, which can range from not watching television (the O.J. Simpson murder trial jury was infamously sequestered without TV for months) to not speaking to attorneys or witnesses. If a juror violates the rules laid down by the judge, a mistrial may be declared.
The Jury Was Improperly Drawn
Prosecution and defense attorneys select jurors through the voir dire process, and often seek to have jurors who do not have knowledge of the case. If a judge determines that either side used improper practices in selecting jury members or a juror lied during the voir dire process, there may be a mistrial.
The Jury Was Provided Evidence It Should Not Have Had
A jury should only hear evidence that is admissible under the applicable rules of evidence. If inadmissible evidence is mistakenly shown to jurors, or attorneys make improper statements to the jury in their arguments or examination of witnesses, a judge may decide that the case has been so tainted as to require a mistrial declaration.
A Key Figure in the Trial Becomes Unavailable
Trials can be intense and sometimes long affairs. When a key figure in the trial – such as a juror or attorney – becomes unavailable through death, severe illness, or some other cause, the judge may have no choice but to declare a mistrial.
Help In Your Criminal Appeal
The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, feel free to contact Mr. Parker today for a no obligation 30-minute consultation.