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Mistrial — A Definition

Sarah Edwards | April 11, 2024

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Harris is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD/MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Summary: When a trial is declared invalid due to serious errors that occurred during the case proceedings, it is called a mistrial. Mistrials can happen in most types of cases for many different reasons. If you are the defendant in a case, having a mistrial is almost always going to benefit you. You can avoid going to trial altogether by using SoloSuit’s services to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

You’ve probably heard of a mistrial but may not know what the term means. Essentially, a mistrial occurs when something happens during court proceedings that adversely impacts the outcome of a case. A judge will declare the case a mistrial before granting a finding for the defendant.

Here’s everything you need to know about mistrials and what to do if one occurs in your case.

What does a mistrial mean?

A mistrial means that a trial is terminated and declared invalid before a verdict is reached, often due to reasons such as a hung jury, attorney or juror misconduct, inappropriate comments, or the unavailability of key participants.

If a judge declares a mistrial, the prosecutor or plaintiff must decide on their next steps. They can drop the charges against the defendant or choose to undergo a second trial.

Mistrials are more common in criminal proceedings but can also occur in civil cases.

What causes a mistrial to occur?

Judges can declare a mistrial for multiple reasons.

The unavailability of a person involved in court proceedings can lead to a mistrial. For instance, the judge may grant a mistrial if a jury member dies or the defendant suddenly develops a severe illness.

Activities conducted by a juror can also lead to a mistrial. All jurors receive specific instructions concerning their duties at the beginning of the trial. Jurors can’t discuss the aspects of the court proceedings with particular people in the courtroom, like the legal teams or the defendant.

Jurors cannot speak with the media during the court case. They should keep all their opinions concerning the matter to themselves when associating with family members or friends. While they can take notes during the deliberation process with other jurors, they must leave them in the jury room at the end of the day.

If a juror fails to abide by the instructions, their actions can result in a mistrial.

What other actions can result in a mistrial?

Problems with evidence can lead to a mistrial. Both the prosecuting and defending legal teams must provide proof relevant to the case. If they present evidence that detracts from the focus of the case, a judge may declare a mistrial.

Under the judge’s reasoning for a mistrial, the inappropriate evidence can adversely sway the jury from a decision that aligns with the requisite facts and documentation.

Both prosecutors and defendants can select jurors from a pool of candidates. If either legal team chooses a candidate with prior knowledge of the case, they violate jury selection rules, which can result in a mistrial if the judge becomes aware of the situation.

Does a hung jury result in a mistrial?

Yes, a hung jury can result in a mistrial. A hung jury happens when jurors can’t reach a unanimous decision on the case. In most U.S. courts, jurors must all agree on the decision before announcing the claim results.

If some jurors disagree, a judge may order the jurors to prepare additional questions for the prosecutor or defendant to answer. The point of the questions is to give them further evidence to reach a unanimous agreement.

If the prosecutor’s and defendant’s answers don’t resolve the juror’s disagreement, the judge will likely declare a mistrial.

Criminal proceedings that end in a mistrial can result in an acquittal of the defendant. An acquittal results in a complete dismissal of the case, and the defendant can move on with their life.

However, prosecutors can choose to pursue a new trial against the defendant or provide an option for a plea bargain. They are under no obligation to dismiss the charges against the defendant.

Usually, prosecutors will only drop their charges if they believe the expense of a new trial outweighs the benefits or if they don’t think they’re likely to succeed in winning the case.

Does the defendant benefit from a mistrial?

Yes, a mistrial can benefit the defendant in certain situations.

First, the prosecutor or plaintiff may drop the charges against the defendant. If they drop the charges, the defendant is free from further legal activity concerning the original claim.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor may offer a plea bargain to avoid the expense of a second trial. A plea bargain may include more favorable arrangements for a defendant, like reduced fines or probation instead of jail time. If the case against the defendant is solid, accepting a plea bargain after a mistrial can benefit them.

Finally, there are specific instructions that both legal teams must follow if the prosecutor decides to pursue a second trial. If the prosecutor makes a mistake, the defense can quickly call their activities into question, which can negatively impact the outcome of the second trial.

Mistrials are usually avoidable if everyone involved in the legal proceedings handles their responsibilities appropriately. A mistrial is unavoidable only when a participant in the proceedings dies or unexpectedly contracts a serious illness that prevents them from continued participation in the case.

Avoid going to trial in your debt collection lawsuit

If you’ve been sued for a debt, there is a chance you will have to go to trial to fight the case. Going to trial is still better than ignoring the case and losing by a default judgment, but there are ways to avoid going to court altogether.

Here are some options that will help you avoid a trial in your debt collection lawsuit:

  • Respond to the case with a strong Answer. You must respond to your lawsuit before your state’s deadline, or you will lose automatically. Draft a strong response where you reply to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defenses. Be sure to send a copy of it to the opposing attorney after filing it with the court. Most debt collectors file lawsuits in the hopes that you’ll ignore it and lose by default. Responding with an Answer document automatically increases the chances of winning your case, as many collection agencies would rather drop the case than continue litigation.

  • File a Motion to Compel Arbitration into the case. If you are being sued for credit card debt, check the card agreement for an arbitration clause. If there is one, filing a Motion to Compel Arbitration can push your case out of court and into arbitration. The arbitration process is much less intimidating than presenting your case in court, and it’s usually really expensive for the creditor, who is usually responsible for all arbitration costs. This legal document can help you avoid court and even get the case dropped.

  • Make an offer to settle the debt. You might have enough money saved to pay off some, or all, of the debt you owe. If this is the case, consider settling your debt before you have to go to court. Debt settlement is a great way to help you save money (most debt collectors are willing to settle for less than the original debt amount) and help you get back on track financially.

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SoloSuit can help you with each of these options. Our Answer document takes minutes to complete online, and you can customize it to fit the circumstances of your case. Our Motion to Compel Arbitration is also customizable and helps you push your case out of course and into arbitration. Finally, our Debt Lawsuit Settlement Letter can help you start the negotiation process with debt collectors to reach a debt settlement.

Use SoloSuit to respond to a debt collection lawsuit and increase your chances of winning the case.

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