Yesterday in the middle of trial the judge granted my motion for a mistrial after the key witness for the prosecution violated the court’s order and blurted out accusations against my client unrelated to the case on trial. I convinced the judge that no possible instruction to the jury could cure the prejudice that the witness had created (deliberately, in my opinion).
What is a mistrial?
When a judge declares a mistrial they are cancelling a trial that has already started prior to the jury reaching a verdict. In a jury trial, the trial starts when the jury is sworn in.
Typical reasons for a mistrial are include: 1) misconduct by a litigant, witness, juror or attorney that impacts the accused’s due process rights; 2) a jury that cannot reach an agreement on a verdict despite significant time spent trying to do so (known as a “hung jury”); and 3) when one or more jurors become unable to serve mid-trial and insufficient alternate jurors have been previously selected. In most cases the prosecution can retry the accused after a mistrial has been declared but defense attorneys still view mistrials as a victory since the prosecution has shown its hand, pissed off its witnesses, and may be less inclined to put resources into trying the case again.
As my friend Kelly Cusack (a fellow defense attorney) so beautifully put it: a mistrial is “not a guilty.”
I am thrilled for my client.