Criminal trials do not always go smoothly, and there might be mistakes made by the parties, jurors, or members of the court. Sometimes, these mistakes are so serious that the trial cannot continue, and the proceeding ends in a mistrial.
Some sort of mistake often causes a mistrial, but there are multiple causes of mistrials. Some common reasons a case ends in a mistrial are hung juries, misconduct, and fundamental errors during the trial. It can be frustrating to end with a hung jury because so much time and effort have already gone into the case. However, there is a bright side to a mistrial. Often, defendants are granted new trials that start over from the very beginning in front of a new jury. The second time around, we might better understand the prosecutor’s legal strategies and adjust our plans accordingly.
If you need help with an upcoming trial, our team can help. Schedule a free case review with our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 today.
What is a Mistrial in New Jersey Criminal Cases?
Criminal trials often end in one of three ways: a guilty verdict, a not guilty verdict, or a mistrial. When a jury reaches a guilty or not guilty verdict, the trial is over, and the defendant is either released or moves on to the sentencing phase. A mistrial is different because it is not an end to the case. Our South Jersey criminal defense lawyers can help you if a previous case ended in a mistrial.
Mistrials occur because something went wrong. Sometimes, whatever went wrong was the fault of someone involved. Other times, it is due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. For example, mistakes made by the attorneys trying the case, the judge when ruling on the admissibility of evidence, or jurors when they break the rules might cause a mistrial.
Although defendants are usually gunning for a not guilty verdict, a mistrial might be considered the next best thing. A mistrial cannot be used against the defendant. Instead, it allows the defendant to challenge their case in a new way. Many mistrials lead to new trials where defendants and their lawyers are better prepared. Other times, defendants can challenge the mistrial and try to get their charges dismissed.
Causes of Mistrials in New Jersey Criminal Trials
Mistrials happen for a variety of reasons. Trials are very complex proceedings, and even highly trained and experienced lawyers sometimes mess up. When mistakes are serious enough to compromise the integrity of the judicial process, a mistrial might be in order. Our Wildwood criminal defense attorneys have handled mistrials in the past and can help you if your case ends with a mistrial.
In New Jersey, a criminal trial must end with a unanimous jury verdict. This means that whatever the verdict is, all jurors must agree. If you are found guilty, every juror on your jury panel must agree on that verdict. Criminal trials in New Jersey require 12 jurors in every case. Getting 12 people to agree on something as serious as a verdict in a criminal hearing is difficult, and deliberations often take hours, days, or even weeks. When jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the result is a hung jury and a mistrial.
Even a single juror can cause a hung jury if they refuse to change their vote. Usually, when a jury informs a judge that they are having trouble reaching a verdict, the judge will send them back and tell them to keep trying. If a jury still cannot reach a verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial. When this happens, your case might be heard a second time in front of a new jury who can hopefully agree.
Mistrials are also sometimes the result of bad behavior. In a perfect world, the parties in a criminal l trial would follow all the rules. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, and some attorneys dislike playing by the rules. If an attorney violates procedural rules because they believe doing so will help them win the case, their misconduct might lead to a mistrial.
For example, if a prosecutor lies about how evidence was seized so that it is not suppressed, their behavior might amount to prosecutorial misconduct. In some cases, an attorney might make mistakes with the intention of triggering a mistrial so they can start over in a new trial with better strategies. In either case, a new trial might not be granted. If the prosecutor in your case committed serious misconduct, we can demand that your case be dismissed rather than be given a new trial.
For evidence to be admissible, it must adhere to very strict evidentiary standards. Evidence that falls below these standards must be suppressed and kept out of your trial. Perhaps one of the most significant evidentiary rules is the rule against evidence seized in violation of the defendant’s rights. For example, evidence seized without a valid search warrant or exception to the warrant requirement would be tainted and must be suppressed.
If evidence that should be suppressed because it is unlawful is mistakenly allowed at trial, the case might end in a mistrial when the mistake is caught. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, defendants are found guilty after tainted evidence is admitted into trial, and their next step is challenging the guilty verdict on appeal.
Other Fundamental Errors
Various other mistakes and errors may undermine the integrity of the truth-determining process. For example, if jurors are not sequestered when they should be, are provided with incorrect jury instructions, or if procedural rules are not followed, the judge might declare a mistrial. Our Sea Isle City criminal defense attorneys can help you identify potential mistakes and demand a mistrial, so you do not suffer because of others’ mistakes.
What Happens After a Mistrial in a New Jersey Criminal Case?
After a mistrial, most defendants are granted a new trial. According to Rule 3:25-4(g) of the rules governing courts of the State of New Jersey, a new trial ordered after a mistrial in a criminal case must commence within 120 days of the entry of the court order. If a new trial cannot be ordered that quickly, we can argue that the case should be dismissed so that your right to a speedy trial is not violated. Our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can also demand that your case be dismissed when prosecutors commit misconduct because they should not benefit from a second trial after intentionally undermining the integrity of the first.
Most mistrials will not end this way but will lead to a new trial. This provides defendants with a unique advantage. We now have an idea of the strategies being used by the prosecutor and can use this information to strengthen our case. Alternatively, we can negotiate a better plea deal with prosecutors if they are not hopeful of the case’s outcome.
Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Case
If you are facing an upcoming criminal trial, our Hamilton Township criminal defense attorneys can help you prepare. For a free case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.