Mistrial
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This article has been written by Sneha Jaiswal, currently pursuing BA LLB (Hons.) from Christ (Deemed to be University) Delhi NCR. This article shows one of the different facets of verdicts that are on Mistrials awarded by the Honorable courts. It also tries to analyze the term “mistrial” with some detail.

Introduction

There are several cases when a jury is unable to reach a verdict, neither the courts grant relief nor they acquit. What they do in those trials is to declare it as a Mistrial. This article will help you to understand the term “mistrial” and the nitty-gritty of it. Also, it will answer the most common unanswered question which is, do defendants in such cases always face a retrial.

Mistrials history – an overview 

A mistrial is a trial that is an incomplete trial. However, it is paused and announced invalid, normally before a decision is made. In law, a mistrial happens when a trial is dropped without a judgment. In other words, a mistrial is a trial that is ended by a judge on the grounds that no decision can be reached or because of mistakes in law that have been made to make a fair trial impossible. When a trial is terminated, the previous proceedings are rendered null and void. Subsequently, a fresh trial is ordered on comparable accusations with the same defendants. The new trial would begin from the beginning, with earlier testimony or conclusions not necessarily relevant in the new court proceedings. A mistrial is usually declared when the jury is unable to reach a decision despite numerous attempts; this is known as a ‘hung jury’. 

Reasons for mistrials

Mistrials may happen for a variety of reasons. 

  • For instance, if the judge determines that a hung jury will not be able to overcome its differences through further deliberation, he or she may declare a mistrial. Differences here means the opinion of judges which clashes during court proceedings due to which a mistrial occurs. Hung juries, on the other hand, aren’t the only reason for a mistrial. 
  • Other than a hung jury, a judge can declare a mistrial for a variety of reasons, including lack of jurisdiction, faulty jury selection, or a deadlock. 
  • A mistrial can also be caused by unusual circumstances, such as the death or illness of a crucial lawyer or juror. 
  • Extraordinary circumstances, such as the death or illness of a necessary lawyer or juror may also result in a mistrial. 
  • A mistrial can also occur when the prosecutor makes a basic error that is so adverse to the defendant that it cannot be mitigated by appropriate jury instructions, such as inappropriate remarks made during the prosecution’s summation. Despite the fact that a mistrial occurs when a trial is halted owing to a hung jury. Nonetheless, a hung jury does not always result in a mistrial.

The emergence of the concept of a mistrial – conditions that lead to a mistrial

A mistrial is a trial that can’t be finished or whose outcome has no lawful worth, usually because a legal mistake has been made. A judge may dismiss a case before a decision is rendered; this is known as a mistrial in legal parlance. There are some conditions in which courts declare mistrial:-

  • Since the court decides that it lacks jurisdiction over a case, a judge may declare a mistrial. 
  • Evidence being admitted improperly, or fresh evidence being discovered that could genuinely influence the outcome of the trial. 
  • Misconduct by a party, a legal hearer, or an outside entertainer if it prevents the due process from being followed. 
  • A hung jury can’t arrive at a decision with the necessary level of unanimity. 
  • If the jury can reach a decision on certain charges but not on others in a criminal preliminary, the defendant may be retried on the charges that resulted in the deadlock, at the prosecution’s discretion. 
  • Disqualification of a juror after the jury has been empanelled if no alternative juror is present and the litigants refuse to proceed with the remaining jurors, or if the remaining jurors do not reach the required number of jurors for a trial. 
  • The sickness or demise of a juror or lawyer. 
  • A motion for a mistrial may be submitted by any party; on rare occasions, the sitting judge may declare one on his or her own motion.

Comparing clause of double jeopardy with the concept of a mistrial

  • The double jeopardy clause prevents the government from prosecuting a person more than once for a similar offence. When a mistrial is declared, however, double jeopardy usually does not apply. Double jeopardy will not be applicable if the mistrial was declared owing to a hung jury or if the defence agreed or urged it. 
  • However, there are some instances where double jeopardy applies, and the case will be dismissed from further proceedings. For instance, if the mistrial was pronounced over the objection of the defendant, or due to prosecutorial misconduct, or for no good cause, the state likely will not get an opportunity.
  • In the event a mistrial is declared, the case may be retried at the discretion of the offending party or prosecution, as long as double jeopardy does not prevent them from doing so. A mistrial in a criminal prosecution may forestall retrial under the double jeopardy provision, which precludes an individual from being tried twice for the same offence, except if needed by the interests of justice and relying upon which party moved for the mistrial. 
  • In the event of a mistrial, there is no double jeopardy. This is why a person is only subject to double jeopardy if they have already been convicted of a crime. Once convicted, the person cannot be tried for the same crime. A mistrial, on the other hand, does not result in a conviction. As a result, the person can be tried again in the cases of a mistrial. 
  • Typically, there is no restriction to a retrial if the defendant agrees or requests a mistrial. If the court grants a mistrial without the defendant’s consent or over his objection, a retrial may be called off in those circumstances. It’s essential to bring up that most judges proclaim a mistrial solely after careful consideration and in instances of absolute necessity.

Possibilities in the aftermath of a mistrial

  • One of the three things will happen when a mistrial is declared. The prosecution may choose either to dismiss the charges, enter into a plea bargain or agreement, or schedule a future criminal trial on the same allegations. If a new trial is held, the previous trial transcript should be thoroughly examined. As a result, the lawyers are able to uncover additional problems in preparation for a retrial. Most cases will be retried at a later date, depending on what caused the mistrial. This could be advantageous to the defence. Because prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, a mistrial may lead prosecutors to reconsider their case based on the evidence presented by the defense.
  • What occurs once a mistrial is declared can include the following: On the same charge, a new criminal trial has been scheduled. The trial process is effectively restarted. Because the first trial was declared a mistrial, the second trial is not considered an unfair “double jeopardy.” Alternatively, the prosecutor can dismiss the charge or charges and close the case. A plea bargain to a lesser charge or even a dismissal may be used to resolve some cases. The prosecutor and the defence can reach an agreement on a plea bargain. Normally, such agreements are established before the start of a trial. If that did not happen in the instance, but the subsequent mistrial revealed prosecutorial difficulties, a plea bargain to settle the matter in favour became more possible.
  • If the trial ends in a mistrial, the attorney can fight to resolve the case in favour without the need for another trial. In any event, the parties need a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defence lawyer to handle their case from the start, they can contact a defence attorney who can fight to avoid a charge or charges reduced or even dismissed. Alternatively, it can be fought in order to obtain a favourable plea bargain agreement to avoid a trial. If a trial is held, the right to due process can be protected by demonstrating that the prosecutor cannot prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Issues with a mistrial

  • Going through a second trial can cause problems for both parties involved. For both the plaintiff and the respondent, a retrial is in some ways an opportunity for both the plaintiff and the respondent to try the case knowing what the other side will focus on during trial and the legal and factual arguments they will assert. The prosecutor has the option of considering how to proceed once a mistrial is declared due to a hung jury. The prosecutor may choose to dismiss the charges brought against the defendant in some instances. 
  • In certain circumstances, once a mistrial has been declared, a plea bargain may be arranged. If neither of these things happens, the mistrial will result in the defendant being tried on all of the same allegations in a new trial at a later date.
  • This can take away the element of surprise. This, on the other hand, allows both sides to conduct additional research and develop their evidence and arguments in support of their own case as well as in response to the other’s case. 
  • Normally, trial judges will not issue an order of mistrial unless the matter is sufficiently detrimental that the defendant will not be able to obtain a fair trial. The judge has complete authority over whether to grant or refuse a motion for a mistrial. Judges frequently refuse the order and grant the jury “curative guidelines”. However, asking for curative instructions, which essentially tells the jury to dismiss what they just heard, might be harmful because the instruction might exaggerate illegal and prejudicial remarks.

Facets of a mistrial 

  • For the parties engaged in the case, mistrials can be extremely traumatic. When a trial begins, people anticipate that there will be a conclusion at the end or a ray of hope for them to get relief at the end of the trial. In fact, a mistrial places the case in uncertainty until choices regarding how and when to proceed are determined. Mistrials create issues for both the prosecution and the defence. 
  • Also, not exclusively going through another trial means bringing in witnesses and experts once again but also additional wastage of financial resources. For both sides, a retrial implies that each knows the information that the other side will present. Subsequently, each side has a better chance to rebut. Few opportunities to unveil a surprise on the other side are available at this point. Both parties have additional time to support their sides. 
  • While a mistrial obstructs a guilty verdict, it is additionally not an assertion of innocence. Yet, the declaration can provide a defendant with several opportunities that the defence can take advantage of. 
  • First, the prosecution should decide whether to reestablish the charges against the defendant and look for a new trial. If the mistrial happened after the jury couldn’t arrive at a decision, the defence counsel might have the option to persuade the prosecutor that the evidence is adequate to retry the defendant. Second, when a defendant receives another trial, a new jury is chosen and the whole proceeding begins once again. This implies that anything which biased the defendant will be executed from the jury’s wisdom. Furthermore, this gives the defence an opportunity as a new beginning to the case. 
  • Finally, a mistrial draws out the trial process, which may support the defendant. For example, witnesses’ memories blur after some time and evidence can get destroyed or lost. Hence, usually, extra time may give some benefit to a defendant.

Mistrials and India – a concept not so new 

A mistrial is a concept that is not so new for India. The term mistrial is often used by judges while hearing proceedings in the courtroom. There are numerous cases that discuss mistrial with the concept of retrial. 

Munna Lal v. Prakash Dev (1951)

In the case of Munna Lal v. Prakash Dev (1951), there was some sort of dispute regarding the fixation of standard rent. The document presented as a piece of evidence was totally irrelevant to the facts with regard to the fixation of standard rent. In the present case, the judge, in his opinion, said that there had been a mistrial in the sense. He, therefore, quashed all the proceedings and remand the case for retrial.

D. Muralidharan v. State (2017)

In the case of D. Muralidharan v. State (2017), the petitioner was seeking relief against the order passed by the learned chief metropolitan magistrate for the offence under Section 417 and Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, 1860, and Section 4 of Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. One of the reliefs sought by the petitioner was to dismiss the case as a mistrial under the ground of prosecutorial conduct. Later, the petition was dismissed on the ground that the court was not inclined to accept the petition at the premature level. Thus, the concept of a mistrial is not so new for India. The term mistrial is often used by judges while hearing proceedings in the courtroom. 

Conclusion 

Try not to lose hope when the parties are caught in the web of a mistrial or when they are facing a mistrial in their cases. On the other hand, try to take it as an opportunity to have resulted in their favour with proper preparation that may include research and the evidence to support their own argument as well as in response to the opposing side’s case. Thus, re-strategize with the good defence attorney to seek the desired result in the case of a mistrial.

References


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