Articles Posted in Jury

Criminal defense trials, whether fictionalized accounts on television or in the movies or the real life versions, usually end in one of three ways – a guilty verdict, a non-guilty verdict or a mistrial. The first two are self-explanatory. But what exactly constitutes a mistrial?courtroom-144091_1280

Reasons for Chicago Mistrials

A mistrial results in the trial ending without a verdict, and either the prosecutor or defense attorney can make a motion for mistrial. In some cases, the judge will enter the order for mistrial without a request from either side. If the judge grants the motion for mistrial, the trial is over. If he denies it, the trial continues, and the defendant can appeal the decision if the jury enters a guilty verdict. There are a number of reasons why a mistrial may be granted, including:

Hung jury: Probably the most well-known reason for a mistrial. A hung jury occurs when all 12 members of the jury cannot agree on a verdict, and no amount of further deliberations will change anybody’s mind. The judge usually orders the mistrial on his own in these situations, as opposed to the prosecution or defense filing a motion.

Juror misconduct: Either side may request a mistrial if there is evidence of juror misconduct. This may include discussing the case with other jurors before deliberations begin, using evidence not admitted at trial to influence their decision, discussing the case with non-jurors or having contact with any of the parties associated with the trial outside of the courtroom.

Death: A mistrial can be declared if a juror (if there are no alternates) or attorney dies during trial.

Tainted jury pool: If a juror lies during voir dire – the pre-trial phase where the prosecutor and defense attorney question the potential jurors prior to jury selection – the jury pool can be considered tainted and may be grounds for a mistrial. Lies or omissions by a juror that could cause a mistrial include failure to disclose a relationship (personal or otherwise) with any parties to the case, including witnesses; having been a victim of the crime the defendant is accused of committing, or; having already formed an opinion regarding the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

Prejudice to the defendant: If something occurs at trial that is so prejudicial to the defendant that he can no longer receive a fair trial, and a judge’s admonition to the jury to not consider that information is not enough to erase it, a mistrial can be declared. Actions that can cause such prejudice include improper remarks made by the prosecutor during his opening statement, or a witness testifying to highly inflammable, but irrelevant, acts by the defendant.

If a criminal case ends in a mistrial, the prosecutor may be able to retry the case. Whether or not this is possible depends on the reasons for the declaration of trial, and whether a retrial would violate the defendant’s right against double jeopardy, that is, the right to not be tried a second time for his alleged crimes. Whether double jeopardy attaches to prevent retrial is a complicated legal analysis that is generally taken up on appeal. In general, however, any case that ends in a hung jury can usually be retried.

Continue reading

The recent announcement that the grand jury chose not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown this past summer on charges of first-degree murder or manslaughter raised many questions, the most troubling for many being, “Why shouldn’t Officer Wilson at least stand trial?”

117048243_7cc6bb0b87

Purpose of Chicago Grand Jury

It is often said that “a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich.” And while this is not true, the statement comes from the fact that the burden of proof the prosecution must meet in a grand jury is different than the burden of proof the prosecution must meet in a criminal trial. At trial, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

But in order for a grand jury to hand down an indictment, the prosecution must only prove that there is probable cause to show that the defendant committed the charged offense. If the grand jury finds that there is insufficient evidence that the defendant did not commit the crime, it will vote not to indict, and all charges against the defendant are dismissed.

The purpose of the grand jury, then, is not to decide the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant, although arguably, the fact that they found insufficient evidence to send the defendant to trial is tantamount to their profession of his innocence.

How the Grand Jury Works

The grand jury is similar to a jury in a criminal trial in that the jurors review evidence provided by the prosecutor and hear witness testimony. But in many ways it is quite different. Because the purpose of the proceeding is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to put the defendant on trial, and not to determine his guilt or innocence, only the prosecution puts on a case; the jurors never hear from the defense attorney.

In fact, a defense attorney is not present at the grand jury and, unless the prosecution plans to call him as a witness, neither is the defendant. Grand jury proceedings are secret, and the testimony, evidence and witnesses presented in the proceedings are also kept secret, unless ordered released by the judge or released by the prosecutor as part of his duties. Grand jury proceedings are so secret, that in some cases the person being indicted does not even know that he is the subject of a grand jury until the indictment is handed down.

All evidence, regardless of whether it will ultimately be admitted in court, is presented to the grand jury. The regular rules of evidence that apply to criminal trials are inapplicable in grand juries. And again, because the purpose of the grand jury is only to determine if there is enough evidence to support the idea that the defendant committed the charged crime, and not to prove his guilt or innocence, it does not matter whether the evidence was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizures or any other law. Any evidence the prosecution has against the defendant is presented.

In addition to the evidence presented by the prosecution, the grand jury may consider information called to its attention by the court or learned in its investigation of other matters. The grand jury may also request permission to conduct its own investigation, including the right to subpoena witnesses or other documents.

Continue reading