As a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I have successfully defended criminal charges in front of a jury. A jury trial requires that 12 men and women find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to be found guilty. At times, there are mistrials, meaning that the trial ends before the jury reaches a decision. In this article, I will explain criminal mistrials, double jeopardy, and “manifest necessity” in Pennsylvania.
What are Common Reasons for a Criminal Mistrial in Pennsylvania?
Mistrials can happen for a variety of reasons. All mistrials have some defect in the case that will prevent a fair result from being reached.
Common reasons for mistrials:
- The death of one of the participants such as a jury member, the prosecutor, the defense attorney or the trial judge.
- An impropriety of a jury member such as a discovery that a jury member is not impartial.
- Juror misconduct such as a juror contact with one of the lawyers, contact with one of the witnesses or researching the case online.
- The jury is not able to reach a verdict because jury members cannot agree on guilt or innocence is known as a hung jury. Hung juries are the most common reason for a mistrial.
- A fundamental error that prevents the defendant from getting a fair trial. The error has to be one that cannot be remedied by giving the jury an appropriate instruction.
What is Double Jeopardy in Pennsylvania?
Mistrials directly affect whether a defendant can be tried a second time. A defendant’s right not to be tried for the same crime twice is the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution that provides that no person “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….” Defendants have the right to have their fate decided one time and most defendants who have a case that is declared a mistrial will assert that right.
What is “Manifest Necessity” in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania law allows “manifest necessity” to decide if a mistrial is a cause for a second trial. Manifest necessity is defined as
a circumstance (as an incurable pleading defect, the unavailability of an essential witness, juror misconduct, or illness of counsel) which is of such an overwhelming and unforeseeable nature that the conduct of trial or reaching of a fair result is impossible and which necessitates the declaration of a mistrial NOTE: If there is a manifest necessity for the declaration of a mistrial, the defendant may be retried without violation of the prohibition on double jeopardy.
For a second trial to take place, there must a reason that was out of the control of the judge or the prosecution. If the judge or prosecution contributed to the mistrial than the defendant does not have to go through a second trial.