What is the Impact of a Mistrial?
Change of Venue
When you change the location of the trial from one jurisdiction to a different jurisdiction typically to allow for anonymity of the defendant.
Laws which protect a defendant from being tried twice for the same or similar charges once they have been acquitted or convicted for those charges.
Definition of a Mistrial
In the United States there are two primary types of trials. A bench trial where there is prosecution, defense and a judge and a jury trial where there is prosecution, defense, a jury and a judge. The purpose of a trial is to maintain fairness and provide burden of proof. It is assumed that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty however, it is widely argued that in the US there is no such thing as due process of law. The press, the media and highly paid informants see to it that even with a change of venue, defendants have very little chance of being tried by an unbiased jury of their peers.
A mistrial occurs when a judge terminates the trial proceedings before judgement has been determined. The reasons a judge might declare a mistrial are:
- Improper advisement of jurors.
- If a juror was to divulge information prior to the instructed deliberation time.
- If a juror was to discuss any information with the media or press.
- If a juror were found to be incompetent or unfairly prejudiced.
- If a sequestered jury member had seen media or press coverage of the details and events of the trial.
- Jury tampering.
- If the judge feels that the court does not have proper jurisdiction over the case.
- If there is a death; either an attorney, the judge or a jury member which cannot be replaced.
- If evidence is handled incorrectly.
- Improper handling of witnesses.
- Exclusion of legal testimony.
- Admitting illegal testimony.
It is important to understand that the declaration of a mistrial does not always mean that a new trial will be granted. If a new trial would constitute "double jeopardy" for the defendant it would eliminate the opportunity for retrial. If the mistrial is a result of mistakes made by prosecution or by judicial misconduct, a retrial will not be granted.
When asked whether or not Scott Peterson should be retried based on his appeal (which might have been a mistrial based on the evidence his attorneys are now presenting) the statistics were as follows:
31% yes, he should get another trial based on constitutional flaws
63% no, he's guilty
The Impact of a Mistrial
When a mistrial is declared it can have devastating effects for the prosecution and for the public. Once a hearing has successfully run its course, the prosecution has delivered proper arguments and provided sufficient burden of proof, the defense has done their job of refuting arguments and presenting witnesses and the jury has begun deliberations and suddenly the the defense moves for a mistrial charging that a court officer acted improperly and could potentially affect the outcome of the trial, the judge has to make a critical decision about whether or not to declare a mistrial. In all trials, it is of the utmost importance that every person involved, especially in criminal cases, from the moment police arrive on the scene of the crime until the closing argument of the prosecution, that all procedures be done with absolute precision and integrity. If one mistake is found, it can be used later in an appeal as grounds for reversal of conviction.
Currently Scott Peterson who was convicted of killing his wife Laci Peterson and his unborn son Connor in 2002 and was sentenced to death in 2004, is appealing his conviction claiming that because of the extreme amount of media coverage, the jury was unfairly biased. It's impossible to live in a society that is flogged by press and media and assume that you will find twelve jurors who are ignorant to such a high profile case. His attorney is appealing for an acquittal with the statement that he is innocent of the crime. While his appeal is different than a mistrial, if this issue had been addressed during the actual trial it would have been grounds to consider a mistrial. If the judge had found sufficient evidence to concur with the argument and decided to declare a mistrial, the attorney would have asked for an acquittal at that time.