What Happens After a Criminal Mistrial in Miami, Florida?

The purpose of a criminal trial is to provide for the just determination of every criminal proceeding. This suggests every criminal trial should end in a verdict of either guilty or not guilty. However, under circumstances in which the jury is unable to agree on whether to enter a verdict of guilty or not guilty or some other action results in a defective trial, the court may declare a mistrial. 

Even if the court declares a mistrial in a criminal case, the defendant will still require legal representation. The prosecution can choose whether to refile charges and what happens prior to that decision often determines a defendant’s fate. Experienced criminal attorneys like those at Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC will protect your rights after the declaration of a mistrial. Having spent their entire careers standing up to prosecutors, our attorneys know how to use the procedural aspects of a mistrial to our client’s advantage.

When Is a Mistrial Declared?

The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure identify three instances where the court may, in its discretion, declare a mistrial. One instance occurs when it is necessary to allow a defendant to raise the defense of insanity after the commencement of a trial. Another occurs as a form of sanction for a party’s failure to comply with discovery rules or orders. Finally, a court may declare a mistrial when the jury’s verdict is so unclear or defective that the court cannot determine whether it entered a verdict of acquittal or conviction. 

Other events that occur during a criminal trial may also prompt a mistrial, including:

  • The jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict (is “hung” or “deadlocked”);
  • The death of a juror or attorney;
  • Discovery of an improperly seated juror after commencement of the trial;
  • Juror misconduct (such as considering prohibited evidence);
  • Interference with the jury’s independent decision making (such as threats); and
  • Any fundamentally unfair error prejudicing the defendant that cannot be cured absent a mistrial.

Both the prosecution and the defense have the right to lodge a motion for mistrial and the court also has the ability to independently order a mistrial.  

The Effects

A mistrial is not an acquittal

If the court declares a mistrial, it does not mean the defendant is innocent or will no longer be charged with a crime. It means that based on the facts and circumstances, it is no longer just for the trial to proceed to a verdict of either not guilty or guilty. 

The prosecution can pursue charges again in a new trial

Because a mistrial is neither a finding of innocence nor guilt, the prosecution may pursue a new trial. A new trial must be brought within 90 days of the date the trial court declared a mistrial. If the prosecution does not bring a new trial within 90 days, the defense attorneys may inform the court that the time to bring a new trial has expired. 

The court must then hold a hearing to determine if the state criminal procedures provide any reason for a delay in seeking a new trial under the circumstances. If there is no allowable reason for delay, the court must order a trial to proceed within 10 days. If the defendant is not brought to trial within the 10-day period, the defendant may move to have the charges dismissed. 

Double jeopardy may apply

The Supreme Court of Florida has ruled that under certain limited circumstances, the double jeopardy clause contained in the United States and Florida Constitutions may apply to cases ending in a mistrial. The double jeopardy clause prevents a defendant from being tried twice for the same offense. 

Generally, double jeopardy does not bar prosecution after a mistrial if the court orders a mistrial on its own or at the defendant’s request. However, if the defendant objects to the mistrial, the prosecution must show a manifest necessity existed in the proceeding prior to the mistrial in order to try the defendant again. Finally, where the mistrial is the result of judicial or prosecutorial misconduct, retrying the case is generally prohibited.

Is a Mistrial a Good Thing?

While a mistrial prevents a guilty verdict, it is also not a declaration of innocence. Yet, the declaration of one can provide a defendant with several opportunities that the defense can take advantage of.

First, the prosecution must decide whether to reinstate the charges against the defendant and seek a new trial. If the mistrial occurred after the jury was unable to reach a verdict, the defense counsel may be able to convince the prosecutor the evidence is insufficient to retry the defendant. 

Second, when a defendant receives a new trial, a new jury is selected and the entire proceeding starts over. This means anything that prejudiced the defendant will be excluded from the jury’s knowledge. Additionally, this gives the defense a fresh start at the case.

Finally, a mistrial draws out the trial process, which may favor the defendant. For instance, witnesses’ memories fade over time and evidence can get lost or destroyed. Thus, the additional time may confer some advantage to a defendant.

Contact a Miami Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Criminal trials are complex proceedings you should not face alone. You need the assistance of a dedicated advocate, such as a skilled attorney from Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC, to protect your rights. It is rare for a court to declare a mistrial, however, a trusted legal advisor should assess the proceeding and determine if a mistrial is necessary under the circumstances. 

At Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC, our attorneys have experience navigating the procedural aspects of the criminal court and using it to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. We will work with you to formulate a strategic defense, including seeking a mistrial when appropriate. We are in your corner and will ensure you are treated fairly and justly by the criminal justice system.