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What is a Criminal Mistrial?

June 15, 2016 | Posted In Criminal Law

The United States Constitution grants every person who has been charged with criminal activity the right to a trial by jury. This right is a fundamental basis for the existing U.S. court system. A jury trial allows a criminal defendant to present evidence in his or her defense and to be judged by a group of his or her peers. A defendant cannot be convicted of a crime unless the jury finds him or her guilty and issues a verdict.

If a trial ends before the jury reaches a final decision, this is considered a criminal mistrial. If the defendant is tried before a judge with no jury present, and the trial ends before the judge issues a ruling, this is also considered a mistrial. In every instance of a mistrial, there is at least one factor that prevents the trial from being completed fairly.

What Causes a Mistrial?

Mistrials can occur for any number of reasons, but typically, something happens in the course of the trial that jeopardizes the integrity of the process and violates the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Below are some of the common reasons for a mistrial.

  • A hung jury. This means that the jury cannot agree on the innocence or guilt of the defendant, and cannot reach a verdict.
  • Death of one of the participants. This can include a member of the jury, the prosecutor, defense attorney, or the judge presiding over the trial.
  • Impropriety or improper conduct by a jury member. If a member of the jury is found to be less than impartial or to have concealed a hidden agenda, this can cause a mistrial. Additionally, if a jury member breaks the rules and talks about details of the case with the lawyers or witnesses, or does independent research into the case, this can lead to mistrial.
  • Fundamental errors. If an error (or several) has been committed in the trial and has prevented the defendant from getting a fair trial, this can lead to a mistrial. The error must be one that cannot be corrected through jury instruction.

Double Jeopardy

In the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a defendant is granted the right not to be tried twice for the same crime. This amendment provides double jeopardy protection and allows defendants to avoid a second round in court. Trials are long, anxiety-inducing processes, and forcing a defendant to undergo a second trial for an already-tried crime is a violation of Constitutional rights.

If a mistrial has been declared, a defendant can try to block a second attempt at trial by citing the Fifth Amendment. While there are times where this may not work, often, the defendant can argue that the mistrial counts as the first and only trial for the particular crime. If the mistrial is not the fault of the prosecution or the judge, the opposing counsel can sometimes make a case for a retrial — it all depends on the circumstances surrounding the mistrial.

For more information on your constitutional trial rights, get in touch with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today. We represent anyone who has been charged with criminal activity and facing a trial by jury.

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