In New Jersey, criminal defendants can only be convicted by unanimous jury verdicts. Juries that cannot reach unanimous decisions are referred to as hung juries.
If your case results in a hung jury, then you will likely be granted a mistrial. When granted a mistrial, you are afforded the opportunity to start your trial over again in front of a new jury. A mistrial ruling may be the next best outcome for your case outside of a not-guilty verdict. It cannot be used against you and allows you more time to prepare your defense.
If you require help preparing for your upcoming trial, connect with our experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers by calling the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.
What is a Hung Jury?
A hung jury is a jury that is so divided in their opinions that they cannot come to a collective decision regarding a defendant’s acquittal or guilty verdict. A criminal defendant may not be convicted unless their jury reaches a unanimous verdict. This means that whatever the verdict is, all jurors have to agree to it.
In New Jersey, there are 12 jurors in every criminal case. Getting 12 jurors to agree on something as serious as a criminal charge can be very hard. Jury deliberations usually take a long time. If even a single juror refuses to fall in line with the rest, a hung jury may occur. When this occurs, the judge can declare a mistrial.
What Happens if There is a Hung Jury for a Defendant in New Jersey?
In the event of a hung jury, the judge may try to avoid immediately declaring a mistrial. They can instruct the jurors to deliberate further to be sure they cannot reach a unanimous decision. The judge may even schedule a hearing where the jury is allowed to present a list of questions for certain parties to answer. If the jury is still unable to come to a decision after further deliberation, then a mistrial will be declared.
After declaration of a mistrial, the prosecution will decide how the case will proceed. For instance, the prosecutors may ultimately decide to drop the charges being levied against the defendant. Furthermore, if a mistrial has been declared, parties may re-enter into negotiations for a plea bargain. If neither of these things happen, then a new trial will commence with the defendant being tried on all of the same charges in front of a new jury.
Having the opportunity to try your case again can be very advantageous. By starting over again, our Haddonfield, NJ criminal defense lawyers will have even more time to prepare your case. We will have an idea of the strategies being used by the prosecutor and can more effectively strengthen your defense. Furthermore, you may be able to challenge the mistrial and have your charges dismissed. Accordingly, besides receiving not guilty verdict, a hung jury that results in a mistrial can be the next-best outcome for your case.
Does Double Jeopardy Apply When There is a Hung Jury and Mistrial in New Jersey?
The double jeopardy clause is established by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This clause assures that there will be no prosecution after acquittal for the same offense, no double convictions for the same offense, and multiple punishments will not be applied to the same offense.
In the case of a hung jury and mistrial, double jeopardy will not apply. This is because double jeopardy only applies when a defendant has been convicted or acquitted of a crime. After a case has reached a resolution, the defendant cannot be tried again for the same crime. However, a mistrial means that no decision has been reached. Accordingly, if your jury is hung and a mistrial is declared, you can still be tried again for the crime at issue.
Other Reasons for Mistrials in New Jersey
In addition to hung juries, there are several other reasons that mistrials may be declared in New Jersey. For instance, a judge may declare a mistrial because attorneys acted improperly. For instance, a lawyer may lie about how evidence was obtained in order to prevent its suppression. In that case, the judge may declare a mistrial. However, some attorneys make mistakes with the intention of triggering a mistrial so that they may start over with better strategies. In these instances, new trials may not be granted.
There are other forms of misconduct that can lead to new trials. Mistrials may also be declared because of jurors’ inappropriate behavior. For instance, if a jury member speaks to other people outside of court about the case, then a mistrial might be declared. Furthermore, if a juror conceals their personal beliefs during the jury selection process and their beliefs could cause impartial deliberations, that could also lead to a mistrial.
Additionally, mistrials can be declared for evidentiary mistakes. During criminal prosecutions, there are very strict evidentiary standards that must be adhered to. For example, if evidence was acquired without a proper search warrant or exception to the warrant requirement, then the evidence at issue may not be allowed at trial. If this evidence is mistakenly presented, then a mistrial may be declared. Unfortunately, some defendants may still be found guilty after tainted evidence is admitted. In these cases, wrongfully convicted parties will have to challenge their guilty verdicts on appeal, and the jury verdict is undone so the case can go back to trial as though the verdict was never entered.
Mistrials can also be declared for prosecutorial misconduct, improper sequestration of the jury, and other issues that could create bias or prejudice that might hurt the defendant’s shot at a fair trial.
If You Need Help with Your Criminal Case in New Jersey, Reach Out to Our Law Firm for Support
After being charged with a crime, get help from our experienced Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956 for a free evaluation of your case.