What Are the Grounds for a Mistrial in Utah?
One of the most frustrating experiences in a criminal case is a mistrial. There are numerous reasons for mistrials, after which the entire case might have to start over from the beginning.
After a mistrial, a new jury may be assembled, and the case will start anew. A variety of factors might lead to a mistrial, including problems with the jury, bad evidence, misconduct, and more. Sometimes mistrials are declared by the court. This is usually the case when the reason is clear, and the case should not continue by law. Other times, either party may file a motion for a mistrial, and the judge will review the motion and either deny it or declare a mistrial. After a mistrial, the case usually starts over, and a new jury must be empaneled. However, in some cases, the judge might dismiss the case if a new trial cannot or should be arranged.
If you recently experienced a mistrial, you might be looking at a whole new trial. Our Utah criminal defense lawyers can help you through this process and provide the best defense possible. Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 for a free case evaluation.
Reasons Why a Case Might End in a Mistrial in Utah
Mistrials are not taken lightly by the courts. A mistrial means all the progress made in a criminal trial must be thrown away, and the entire case must start over. There are numerous possible causes of mistrials, although some are more common than others. Our West Valley City criminal defense attorneys can help you avoid a mistrial in your case or help you start over after a mistrial.
A hung jury is a jury that cannot reach a final verdict. This is a rather unfortunate cause of a mistrial because it happens at the very end when all arguments and evidence have been presented. In most states, including Utah, the final verdict from a jury in a criminal trial must be unanimous. It is not unusual for juries to be split on this decision, and courts provide them ample time to comb through evidence and reach a unanimous verdict.
Alas, some juries simply cannot agree, and no verdict can be reached. In these cases, the jury will inform the judge that they are deadlocked. Often, the judge will tell them to try again and give them more time to review the case. If the jury is still deadlocked, the judge may declare a mistrial.
Hung juries can be somewhat unpredictable. In some cases, a hung jury results from one stubborn hold-out on the jury. In others, it might be caused by weak evidence or poorly presented arguments, and jurors are unsure how to make a decision. In either case, our Taylorsville criminal defense lawyers can help you plan your new trial.
While a lot of evidence and arguments are allowed to enter the courtroom, certain things are off limits if they are unfairly prejudicial one way or the other. For example, evidence of a defendant’s prior criminal convictions is often not allowed to be mentioned in court, barring exceptional circumstances. If the prosecution brings up the defendant’s criminal history, even as part of some otherwise admissible evidence, the jury might be unfairly swayed toward a guilty verdict.
The problem with prejudicial evidence is that it is almost impossible to undo once it is out. Juries are sometimes instructed to disregard certain bits of prejudicial or overly inflammatory evidence, and the case moves forward. If the evidence is so prejudicial or inflammatory that the jury cannot be expected to ignore it, we can move for a mistrial.
Some evidence is not overly prejudicial or inflammatory. Instead, it is unlawful because it was illegally seized by law enforcement. Tainted evidence is not allowed to be heard in court, especially if a judge has already granted a defense motion to suppress the evidence. Prosecutors sometimes try to enter tainted evidence into court anyway, whether by mistake or blatant disregard of the judge’s ruling.
Much like overly prejudicial evidence, unlawful evidence cannot be undone once a jury has heard it. Again, the judge might instruct the jury to disregard this evidence moving forward, or the jury might be so swayed by the evidence that the trial can no longer continue, and a mistrial is necessary.
Misconduct occurs when someone in the courtroom breaks the rules. Misconduct might occur on the part of the defense, prosecution, or even the jury. For example, prosecutorial misconduct might consist of trying to enter evidence the prosecutor knows is tainted or overly prejudicial, especially if the judge has already ruled on the matter. Jury misconduct might involve jurors seeking out information about the case from outside the courtroom, like in the media or the internet. Misconduct is serious and not tolerated by the court, and a mistrial is likely.
How Are Mistrials Declared in Utah?
Mistrials sometimes happen quickly when the court discovers a serious error or misconduct. Other times, the error or misconduct might not be realized until much later. Still, other times, we might believe a mistrial is necessary, but the prosecution does not, and we will have to argue to the judge why they should declare a mistrial.
The judge is always the one who declares mistrials. Often, the parties do not have to address the mistrial. The judge will declare a mistrial on their own. This is often the case when the cause of the mistrial is obvious. For example, when a jury is deadlocked, the judge will almost always declare a mistrial whether the parties to the case want one or not. Also, acts of misconduct tend to be met with swift action by the court, and a mistrial quickly follows.
In other cases, a mistrial is declared by a motion of either party. For example, suppose our Utah criminal defense attorneys believe that evidence entered by the prosecutor is overly prejudicial, highly inflammatory, and likely to unfairly turn the jury against you. We would likely have to file a motion for a mistrial arguing why the evidence is prejudicial and why the trial cannot move forward. The judge may or may not agree.
Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help
A mistrial can be frustrating but is also a second chance to defend yourself against bogus charges in court. Our St. George criminal defense lawyers can help you plan your next steps after a mistrial. Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 for a free case evaluation.