The recent verdicts of the Derek Chauvin trial — which we believe will go down in history as one of the most important trials this century — have led a number of people to question whether or not the verdicts might someday soon be overturned. During the trial itself, it was supposed that the judge might even have to declare a mistrial. But what exactly is the legal definition of the word “mistrial” and when do they occur?
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), “Mistrials are trials that are not successfully completed. They’re terminated and declared void before the jury returns a verdict or the judge renders his or her decision in a nonjury trial.”
Some reasons that a mistrial might be declared are more common or well-known than others. For example, most people who hear about a mistrial might presume that the jury has in some way been inadvertently influenced by an outside factor or maybe even that a bias that was previously unknown has surfaced in one of the members.
Other common reasons for a mistrial include a juror’s misconduct. This might occur when a juror either voluntarily or accidentally makes contact with someone connected to the case — a one on one meeting with the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, family member, etc. It can also occur when jurors reflect on evidence that was never presented during the trial or evidence that was deemed inadmissible by the judge.
A mistrial might also be called when the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict. This results in a “deadlocked” jury that cannot make a decision because one or more members are holding their ground and refuse to change their vote. This is rare.
Another rare reason for a mistrial occurs after the death of a juror or attorney. In these circumstances, it’s impossible to simply “replace” the deceased with a new juror — because the new juror hasn’t heard the evidence.