What is a Criminal Mistrial, and What Does It Mean for a Case?
Recently, the case of a man accused of shooting a clerk in a Pennsylvania gas station in October of 2017 ended in a mistrial. After deliberating for nearly five hours, the jury could not agree on a verdict for the charges. This is known as a hung jury and in Pennsylvania, is just one reason why a case might end in a mistrial.
While many people have heard the term ‘mistrial’ before, few know what it means when a case ends this way. There are many factors that may contribute to a mistrial, and different ways a case can be handled when it does. Sometimes a mistrial may work in the defendant’s favor, while other times it may not. In either case, the defendant still has the right to be treated fairly. A Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can help ensure their rights are upheld in court.
Why do Criminal Mistrials Happen?
Mistrials are covered under Rule 605 of The Pennsylvania Code. Under this rule, a defendant may request a mistrial if an event has occurred during trial that is unfair and detrimental to the defendant. This event must be one that cannot be corrected through appropriate instruction from the judge to the jury.
For example, if evidence was shown to the jury that was inadmissible in court, the judge could instruct the jury that they are not to consider that evidence when reaching a verdict. This would not necessarily result in a case ending in a mistrial. However, if one of the jurors had contact with the prosecution or defense attorney while the case was still ongoing, this could not be corrected by instruction from the judge. This may result in a mistrial.
Jury misconduct, such as speaking to one of the attorneys on the case, is one reason why a case may end in mistrial. Learning that a juror is no longer impartial, such as when they research the case online, would be another example of jury misconduct.
The death of a key participant during the trial could also be reason for mistrial. This could include one of the attorneys, the judge, or a juror.
Double Jeopardy and Mistrials
Any time a case ends in a mistrial, a judge will consider whether or not a new trial date will be set. This must be considered carefully, as the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects defendants from being tried twice for the same crime. This protection will often be argued by the defense in order to avoid another trial.
However, a date for a new trial can be set if the mistrial was not the fault of the judge or the prosecution. In the case of the man accused of shooting the gas station clerk during the attempted robbery, neither the judge nor the jury were at fault. He will have to face a new trial, although a date has not yet been set.
In some instances, typically for very minor crimes, the prosecution will decide not to set a new trial date. This is most often due to the fact that a new trial would be very costly, or because the prosecution does not believe they will win their case.
On the other hand, there are times the prosecution may request the case ends in a mistrial with a new trial date set. This can only occur when the prosecution believes there has been misconduct on the part of the defense that interfered with the fair trial process.
A Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney can Ensure Your Rights are Upheld
Mistrials can be detrimental or beneficial to a case, for either the prosecution and defense. The best way to avoid one is to enlist the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania. An attorney will ensure a defendant’s rights are upheld in court, that the proceedings are fair, and they will work hard to give the defendant the best chance of a successful outcome.
If you have been charged with a crime, do not attempt to represent yourself in the courtroom. There are many situations that can arise, including mistrials, that only a qualified attorney will be familiar with and know how to manage. When you need a strong legal defense, contact van Der Veen, O’ Neill, Hartshorn, and Levin at 215-515-6892 to schedule your free consultation.
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