Minnesota’s criminal courts hear thousands of DWI cases each year. However, not all of these end with a straightforward acquittal or conviction. Under certain circumstances, criminal cases can result in something called a mistrial.
That doesn’t mean you’ll simply get away with the charge in question. Sometimes, a prosecutor may decide to drop the charges against you, but they may also decide to pursue a retrial. It’s up to the court to decide how to proceed from there.
So, exactly what is a mistrial in a Minnesota DWI case, and when does it arise?
What Is a Mistrial?
There are two circumstances that can result in a mistrial; a hung jury, and a major procedural issue during the trial that renders continuation impossible.
A Hung Jury
A hung jury occurs when the twelve jurors in a courtroom trial cannot come to a unanimous decision regarding the guilt of a defendant. This situation is also known as a deadlocked jury. Under federal law, every member of a jury must agree that a defendant is guilty in order for a conviction to occur. The US Supreme Court confirmed this principle as recently as 2020.
Judges generally will not allow this situation to arise easily. When empaneled juries cannot return a unanimous verdict after initial deliberations, the judge in the case will often direct them to consider the matter further before ordering a mistrial.
When circumstances not related to the conduct of the jury, counsel, or defendant(s) make it impossible (according to the assessment of the court) for the trial to lawfully continue, a judge may declare a mistrial. Such circumstances might include the death of a juror, a defense attorney falling ill, or a third party tampering with the jury.
In one North Carolina case from 1998, a judge ordered a mistrial after adverse weather conditions prevented the defense attorney and several jurors from safely making their way to the courthouse.
What Happens Following a Mistrial?
It’s generally up to the prosecutor in a case to decide what happens after a judge declares a mistrial. If they think another jury is likely to acquit the defendant or become deadlocked, they may drop the case. However, if they think they’ll have a good chance of securing a conviction the second time around, they’ll likely move for a retrial.
Does the Double Jeopardy Rule Apply to Mistrials?
The double jeopardy rule comes from the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. It protects criminal defendants from undergoing prosecution for the same offense twice. Some legal experts have argued that a defendant should not be tried again following a mistrial because of this rule.
However, the consensus from previous case law appears to be that this rule does not apply to mistrials. Generally, a second trial after a mistrial is allowable because courts have viewed it as a conclusion to the first case, rather than a second, entirely separate action.
Can a Mistrial Happen in a Minnesota DWI Case?
Mistrials are most common in complicated cases with high stakes, such as where a defendant is on trial for murder. DWI charges are generally more straightforward, meaning there is less room for a mistrial to occur.
However, they can sometimes happen. A jury might end up deadlocked because, say, they cannot agree whether an arresting officer properly administered the field sobriety tests. Alternatively, there could be some major procedural problem during the trial. In either case, your Minnesota DWI case could result in a mistrial.
If you need help with a Minnesota DWI charge or another criminal matter, you should start working with a lawyer without delay to give yourself the best chance of emerging with a favorable result. Contact us today to schedule a free initial review of your case.