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How Does a Criminal Mistrial Happen in Pennsylvania?

Despite all the preparation and work that goes into preparing for trial, criminal cases rarely go as planned. There are a multitude of surprises and unexpected events that unfairly ruin a case or result in a case that does not get to the point where the judge can render a verdict. The judge can then declare a “mistrial,” essentially scrapping the whole trial and having the defendant go through a brand-new trial in the interest of fairness.

In Pennsylvania, mistrials happen when the jury cannot get to a verdict. There are a lot of reasons that this could happen, including the inability to reach a majority or unanimous decision, an event prejudicial to the defendant taking place at trial, misconduct by another party’s lawyer, or other circumstances that would make using the results of the trial to administer justice unfair.

Our criminal defense attorneys from The Law Offices of Lloyd Long can review your case confidentially and free when you reach out to us at (215) 302-0171.

Pennsylvania Rules for Mistrials

234 Pa Code Rule 605(b) governs mistrials in Pennsylvania. Only a defendant can ask for a mistrial, and they must do so when the event allegedly causing one occurs.

Courts also have the discretion to declare mistrials on their own in circumstances of “manifest necessity” under Rule 605 and the ruling in Commonwealth v. Stewart. In that case, a murder victim’s father got selected to be on a jury for a defendant on trial for that murder. At that point, the case was already a mistrial. When the court declared that there would be a new trial, the father started talking to the new jurors. The court declared another mistrial and held that a mistrial and subsequent retrial could be declared even though defense counsel did not move for one because “manifest necessity” demanded it – it would have been unjust to move forward with a jury that the victim’s father tampered with. The court then went on to define manifest necessity as demonstrable, extraordinary circumstances that the judge determines warrant a mistrial.

Reasons a Mistrial Can Happen in Pennsylvania

There are many different reasons that a mistrial can be declared in Pennsylvania in addition to the judge finding that “manifest necessity” demands it. Some of these reasons are mistakes that legal professionals make, while other reasons for a mistrial are circumstances out of any party’s control. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers will be on the lookout for conduct that warrants a mistrial, and we will ask for one if the situation demands it.

Hung Jury

A very common reason for mistrials is a “hung jury,” where they cannot reach a unanimous verdict for a number of common reasons. If a crime requires a majority or unanimous finding of guilt by the jury and the jury cannot agree to that threshold, there will be no verdict, and a mistrial will be declared.

Losing Jurors and Other Key Individuals

If someone critical to the trial is not able to be present, it is possible that a mistrial could be declared.

Everyone on the jury needs to be there, too. It is not uncommon for a conflict to come up for a juror which causes them to need to leave trial. For this reason, alternates are always selected to ensure that a full jury is present. However, if enough jurors become unable to attend the trial, for whatever reason, a mistrial has to be declared because the defendant is not being tried by a jury of their peers. This was the case in Commonwealth v. Brown, where a judge declared a mistrial because the jury could not reach a verdict after three days while two jurors became sick and a third had a pregnancy-related medical emergency.

Professional Misconduct

If the prosecutor or counsel for a codefendant defendant acts inappropriately in court, we can move for a mistrial due to that conduct. Examples of professional misconduct that could result in a mistrial include improperly presenting evidence and discussing the case with the jury outside of legal proceedings in the courtroom. In addition to leading to a mistrial, improper conduct by a prosecutor could lead to further sanctions like losing their ability to practice law.

Brady Violations

If a Brady violation occurs, it can lead to a mistrial. Brady violations are named after the United States Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland. In that case, the prosecutor withheld critical evidence that would have exonerated the defendant from guilt, and the defendant was consequently found guilty. The Supreme Court held that such conduct on the part of the prosecutor deprives defendants of their right to due process and is grounds for a mistrial.

Brady violations frequently lead to mistrials being declared. Moreover, prosecutors who commit Brady violations can be sanctioned by the court.

Will I Be Tried Again if I Have a Mistrial in Pennsylvania?

Whether you will be tried again after a mistrial is declared in Pennsylvania will depend on the circumstances of your case. Generally, defendants are only allowed to be tried once under the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, but a new trial issued after a mistrial does not usually violate that rule. However, Pennsylvania determines whether a follow-up trial will happen based on who’s fault the mistrial was. Essentially, if the prosecutor attempted to provoke, harass, or otherwise instigate the defendant, they cannot get another trial if a mistrial is declared. However, if the prosecution’s conduct was aboveboard and a mistrial is still necessary, the defendant may have to go to trial again.

Discuss Your Case with Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

The Law Offices of Lloyd Long’s Montgomery County, PA criminal defense attorneys are ready to provide free case analysis when you contact us at the number (215) 302-0171.