Mistrials and Florida Law
When a filmmaker ends a movie on an ambiguous or anticlimactic note, it is either annoying or a stroke of brilliance, depending on your perspective. For example, in many scary movies, the main characters manage to avert the danger that forms the main plot of the story, only for the movie to suggest, in the final moments, that the danger may return. For example, at the end of Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour and Audrey move out of the New York City slums to a single-family home in the suburbs after destroying the man-eating plant that killed off most of the film’s characters, but the final frame of the movie shows that, in their garden, there is another small plant similar to the one that terrorized them throughout the movie. Now imagine how you would feel if you took a criminal case to trial, but the trial ended not with a verdict of guilty or not guilty, but rather with, “to be continued.” Mistrials do not happen very often, but when they do, it means that the trial has ended with a whole lot of nothing. Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains how mistrials work and why they are far from the worst-case scenario in a criminal case.
Circumstances That Can Lead to a Mistrial
In criminal law, a mistrial is a trial that ends without the jury unanimously finding the defendant guilty or not guilty of the charges. One scenario in which a mistrial can happen is that, after hours, or even days, of deliberation, some jurors are sure that the defendant is guilty, while others are sure that there is reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. Jury verdicts must be unanimous, so when the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, the court must declare a mistrial.
It is also possible for the court to declare a mistrial before it comes time for the jury to return a verdict. This happens when something goes wrong during the trial that would prevent it from proceeding according to the rules of fair trials. For example, the death of a judge, lawyer, or jury once the trial has already started is always grounds for a mistrial. Likewise, the court can declare a mistrial if a prosecutor says something to the jury that compromises their impartiality, such as by mentioning that the defendant has previously been convicted of the same offense. An attorney for the defendant can request a mistrial if the prosecution has already shown a piece of evidence to the jury which would prejudice them in their verdict, such that it is too late for the defense attorney simply to request that the court exclude that piece of evidence.
The court can also declare a mistrial if jurors, on their own initiative, have sought out external information that the court deems detrimental to the impartiality of the jury. Since smartphones have become widespread, the courts have faced a barrage of cases where they must decide which Google searches constitute juror misconduct. Are jurors allowed to look up legal terms such as “probable cause” once the trial has started? Can they access the public profiles of defendants and witnesses on social media sites?
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You Before and After a Mistrial
While a mistrial is certainly better than a guilty verdict, it is not exactly a “get out of jail free” card. In the immediate term, it means that you are still in suspense. After declaring a mistrial, the judge has the option to order a new trial or to dismiss the case entirely. Your lawyer can argue for one or the other option. In fact, some mistrials happen on the initiative of criminal defense attorneys who argue that the trial, once it has started, is unfair.
For the time being, a mistrial means that the status quo stays in place. The court has not found you innocent or guilty, but you are still facing criminal charges. If you were free on bond before the original trial, you will likely remain free until the second trial. If the court ordered you to remain in jail until your trial, you will have to go back to jail after the mistrial, unless your lawyer can make an argument for releasing you.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys
A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you get a fair trial if you are facing charges. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.