What Does A Mistrial Mean in Criminal Law?
Most criminal trials end with either a guilty or not guilty verdict. But these are not the only possible outcomes to a criminal trial. Another possibility is a mistrial being declared.
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A judge will declare a mistrial in a criminal trial in Texas when it is determined that the case cannot come to a satisfactory conclusion.
The most common reason a mistrial is declared is when the jury determines that they cannot reach a unanimous decision of guilty or not guilty.
Many defendants think that if a mistrial is declared, the case is over. This is not true.
The Consequences of a Mistrial
A mistrial being declared simply means that the criminal case starts all over. The case will remain on the court’s docket, and all parties to the case must decide how they want to proceed.
3 Possibilities After a Mistrial
After a mistrial is announced, one of three things will occur:
- The prosecutor dismisses the charges;
- A plea bargain or agreement is made; or
- Another criminal trial is scheduled for the future on the same charges.
If another trial transpires, the entire previous trial transcript should be carefully reviewed. This enables the attorney to identify additional issues in preparation for retrial.
What Can Cause a Mistrial?
Mistrials are simply trials that do not have a successful completion by way of a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
In declaring a mistrial, the trial judge terminates the trial and discharges the jurors from their service.
As we noted earlier, mistrials often are called because the jury is deadlocked. But mistrials can happen in Texas for many reasons.
Criminal Mistrial Causes – List
Here is a list of some things that might lead to a mistrial:
- A juror or attorney passes away during the trial;
- A discovery that the jury was improperly selected;
- A serious error in the case that is unfair to the defendant, in such a way that it cannot be remedied by further jury instructions or a brief delay in the proceedings;
- Misconduct on the part of a juror which can include a juror contacting one of the parties to the trial, considering evidence that was not introduced during the trial, or conducting an independent investigation during the case;
- A juror discusses the case with the media;
- A juror is found to be prejudiced or incompetent;
- A finding that someone tampered with the jury; or
- Improper handling of evidence.
Additionally, either side can make a motion to the judge requesting that a mistrial be declared.
It is within the judge’s discretion whether to grant or deny the motion. If denied, the trial will continue.
At this point it is important for the attorney to preserve for appeal all grounds for mistrial by including them in the record by written motion, affidavits, oral statements on the record, etc.
Issues with a Mistrial
Going through a second trial can create problems for both sides.
For both the state and the defense, a retrial is in some ways an opportunity to try their case with knowledge of what the other side will focus on during trial and the arguments that they will make on factual and legal issues.
This sometimes eliminates the element of surprise. However, this also gives both sides an opportunity to further research and develop their evidence and arguments in support of their own case and in response to the other side’s case.
Defense Lawyer – Potential Advantages of a Mistrial
From the defense standpoint, there are potential advantages to the declaration of a mistrial.
First, the state may elect not to retry that case, which would result in dismissal of the charges. Second, if the state did elect to retry that case, there would be a transcript of all of the state’s witnesses who testified before the mistrial was granted, and any variations in their testimony might be used against them during the retrial.
When is the State (Prosecution) Prohibited from Retrial?
In a situation where the state commits some sort of misconduct and the defense is therefore forced to make a motion for mistrial, if that mistrial is granted, and if a judge agrees that the defense was ‘goaded’ into making that motion for mistrial, the State may be barred from retrial in that case. This obviously requires a specific set of circumstances.
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If you are facing criminal prosecution in Texas and/or have been involved in a mistrial, please contact us for a free consultation.