One of the most closely watched trials in recent years was Bill Cosby’s 2017 trial for sexual assault. Observers waiting for either a not guilty or guilty verdict got neither when the jury could not agree on a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. Which raises the question of what exactly a mistrial is, when it happens, and what happens next for a defendant in a criminal case where a mistrial has been declared.
What a Mistrial Is and When It Happens
Essentially, a mistrial is an order by the judge presiding over a criminal case that the trial can no longer continue, and the trial comes to an end. The most common reason for a mistrial is the one we saw in the Bill Cosby where there was a hung jury, which is a jury that cannot reach a unanimous decision for either guilt or innocence. Jury voting requirements differ from state to state (as well as in federal criminal trials), thus unanimity is not necessarily always required. Nevertheless, when the jury cannot meet the requisite standards for either a guilty or not guilty verdict, a mistrial will result.