A mistrial is a trial left incomplete in the eyes of the law. Several things may cause a trial to end before a jury reaches a verdict or a judge renders a decision. When this occurs, the court declares the trial null and void. Different elements of the case, as well as the jury selection process and juror conduct, can cause a mistrial. The West Chester attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices are here to help if you have questions concerning a recent mistrial.
The jury selection process is crucial to the justice system, and many mistrials result from issues with this process. The court selects citizens who have no personal attachment to a case to act as the jury of peers for the defendant. For a trial to conclude, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty.” However, if the jury cannot agree on a decision, it will result in a hung jury and lead to a mistrial.
Common Causes of Mistrials in West Chester
Juror conduct can lead to a mistrial in several ways. Jurors have a legal duty to only consider the evidence presented during the trial, disregard statements made in a trial when instructed by the judge, and refrain from conducting personal investigations into the trials in which they participate. If a juror has any contact with any party involved in the trial or there is any discovered impropriety in the juror selection process, the court will declare a mistrial.
The conduct of attorneys can also lead to mistrials. This can occur if they make prejudicial remarks during prosecutorial summation. If one of the Pennsylvania trial attorneys or jurors participating in the case dies, the court will declare a mistrial.
Either side of a trial may make a motion for a mistrial. If the judge grants the motion, the trial ends and the court will declare it void. The prosecution will then decide how they wish to proceed, and there are a few options available to them. If the judge dismisses the motion, the trial continues.
What Happens After a Mistrial?
The declaration of a mistrial does not convict or acquit the defendant. One of three things will typically happen after a mistrial:
1.) The prosecution opens a new case from the beginning with the same charges. A mistrial does not qualify the defendant for double jeopardy protection since the jury did not render a verdict. The court will perform a new juror selection process and essentially begin the trial afresh.
2.) The prosecution will open plea bargain negotiations with the defense. If negotiations previously failed, the defendant may seize this opportunity for a lighter sentence if guilty, or seek new evidence to prove his or her innocence with the additional time.
3.) The prosecution dismisses the charges. This is rare and typically only happens if the judge disallows opening a new case against the defendant.
Many still argue if reopening a case after a mistrial is constitutional. A “hung jury” or jury that deadlocks and is unable to reach a verdict, is a major point of contention and similar to double jeopardy laws. Some claim that if a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict it should nullify the case, but conscientious objectors and jurors who refuse to participate in unanimous verdicts should not preclude the defendant from an impartial trial. Despite the disagreement, reopening a case after a mistrial is generally acceptable in most of the United States.
A mistrial usually works in the defendant’s favor. It is extremely difficult to overturn a conviction, and the potential for negotiations or a new trial is favorable to attempting an appeal on a conviction. Depending on the severity of the charges involved, the prosecution may be more agreeable with reducing or dropping charges to save time and resources. This varies on a case by case basis, so there is no sure answer of what exactly will happen after a mistrial.
If you are involved in a mistrial and need help, contact the Chester County trial lawyers at Ciccarelli Law Offices for help.