What is a Mistrial and How Do They Affect Your Case?

This past week, the highly publicized Bill Cosby trial was declared a mistrial. Cosby was on trial for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting college administrator Andrea Constand in 2004. Over the course of several months after being charged, Cosby faced a slew of sexual assault allegations from approximately sixty (60) women. Constand's allegations against Cosby were the only claims to survive the statute of limitations, raising questions as to why the other women never came forward.

After fifty-two (52) hours of deliberation, the jury was still unable to reach a unanimous verdict –causing a mistrial. The Pennsylvania Prosecutor's Office stated that it will try the case again. So what is a mistrial? How do you get one? And are mistrials bad?

What is a Mistrial?

According to Black's Law Dictionary, a mistrial is defined as: (1) a trial that the judge ends without a determination on the merits because of a procedural error or serious misconduct during the proceedings; or (2) a trial that ends without a conclusion on the merits because the jury cannot agree on a verdict.

Essentially, a mistrial is a trial that comes to an end without a meaningful decision regarding the legal issues that were brought before the court.

How Do You Get a Mistrial?

There are multiple reasons why a judge would declare a mistrial. Trials are conducted in a very structured way to ensure uniformity and fairness in the justice system. If that procedure is somehow disrupted, then a judge may declare a mistrial.

The court will also declare a mistrial if either of the parties engages in misconduct, such as jury or witness tampering. One of the most common reasons for a mistrial, however, is after a long period of time; the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict on the questions of the case. Another term for a jury that cannot reach a verdict is a hung jury.

Not all trials require a unanimous verdict. Generally, civil trials only require a majority vote. Criminal trials are another matter. The U.S. Supreme Court in Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972), held that the Sixth Amendment required unanimous jury verdicts in federal criminal trials, but the Sixth and the Fourteenth Amendments did not require one for state criminal trials.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 48, states that a jury must begin with at least six (6) and no more than twelve (12) members. Moreover, unless otherwise stipulated, the verdict must be unanimous and returned by a jury of at least six (6) members.

For the states, only Louisiana and Oregon allow non-unanimous criminal trials. In Florida, a capital case must have a twelve (12) person jury and at least six (6) in all other criminal cases, and all criminal trials must have unanimous verdicts.

Are Mistrials Bad?

The short answer is no. Whether a mistrial is a bad thing will generally depend on how well or bad your cases is going and the reason behind the mistrial. A case being declared a mistrial due to misconduct is a good thing because it ensures fairness in the criminal justice process.

If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous verdict, it could be considered a sign that the prosecution has been unable to prove all of the elements of the accused crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

As with the Bill Cosby trial, at least one jury member was not convinced that Cosby committed sexual assault. However, the state may, as it plans to in Pennsylvania, try the case again. Retrying a case can be expensive for all parties involved and herein lies one of the biggest problems with mistrials.

Find an Attorney for Criminal Defense in Ft. Lauderdale, FL

To learn more about mistrials and how they can affect your case, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Bacchus Law Firm. Our attorneys have handled misdemeanor and felony cases throughout South Florida in areas such as Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County, Hendry County, and Collier County, Florida.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a serious criminal offense, then contact our office immediately.

Call (954) 500-5555 to schedule a free consultation and speak one-on-one with one of our attorneys.

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