A judge can declare a mistrial for a variety of reasons, such as a mistake being made during the proceedings or jury misconduct. Once a motion for a mistrial is made, the judge has the power to rule for or against the motion. If the motion is granted, the prosecution may be able to start a new trial from the beginning, or it may decide to no longer try the case.
Declaring a Mistrial
A mistrial is brought about by a series of circumstances. A mistrial may occur when:
Jury members cannot all decide on the same verdict
A witness makes statements that the jury cannot disregard
Misconduct by one or more parties in the trial
A juror looks for information regarding the case that he or she is not allowed to see
Mistrial and Double Jeopardy
According to a legal notion called double jeopardy, a defendant cannot be tried more than once for the same crime. The state may decide to retry a case if the jury members are unable to reach a unanimous decision. However, the court may not allow for another trial if it feels that the new jury will come to the same conclusion, and that the next trial would waste the public’s time and resources. In some instances, a case may be retried if the prosecution finds new evidence with which to retry a defendant for the same crime. If a defendant motions for a mistrial or consents to it, he has effectively waived his rights to double jeopardy protection.
All court participants have a voice in whether or not a mistrial is necessary. To prevent prejudice and ensure fairness, all suggestions, alternatives and objections are heard and weighed by the court before it decides to grant the motion or not. This is an important procedure that allows for certainty on the decisions being weighed by the courts. This assessment prevents a mistrial from being declared a manifest necessity, which is an overwhelming happenstance such as:
Misconduct by a juror
Legal counsel’s unforeseeable illness
A key witness’ unavailability for trial
The court must find that there are no reasonable alternatives before granting the motion for a mistrial. This step is necessary to ensure that a mistrial is declared only when it is the only appropriate solution. There may be many questions that arise about mistrials, including the effect on a defendant.