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A courtroom trial that has been terminated prior to its normal conclusion. A mistrial has no legal effect and is considered an invalid or nugatory trial. It differs from a "new trial," which recognizes that a trial was completed but was set aside so that the issues could be tried again.

A judge may declare a mistrial for several reasons, including lack of jurisdiction, incorrect jury selection, or a deadlocked, or hung, jury. A deadlocked jury—where the jurors cannot agree over the defendant's guilt or innocence—is a common reason for declaring a mistrial. Extraordinary circumstances, such as death or illness of a necessary juror or an attorney, may also result in a mistrial. A mistrial may also result from a fundamental error so prejudicial to the defendant that it cannot be cured by appropriate instructions to the jury, such as improper remarks made during the prosecution's summation.

In determining whether to declare a mistrial, the court must decide whether the error is so prejudicial and fundamental that expenditure of further time and expense would be wasteful, if not futile. Although the judge has the power to declare a mistrial and discharge a jury, this power should be "exercised with great care and only in cases of absolute necessity" (Salvatore v. State of Florida, 366 So. 2d 745 [Fla. 1978], cert. denied, 444 U.S. 885, 100 S. Ct. 177, 62 L. Ed. 2d 115 [1979]).

For example, in Ferguson v. State, 417 So. 2d 639 (Fla. 1982), the defendant moved for a mistrial because of an allegedly improper comment made by the prosecution during closing argument. The prosecution stated that not only was defense counsel asking the jury to find a scapegoat for the defendant's guilt, he was also putting the blame on someone who had already been found guilty. The appellate court found that the lower court had properly denied the motion for a mistrial because the prosecutor's comment fell within the bounds of "fair reply."

A mistrial in a criminal prosecution may prevent retrial under the Double Jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits an individual from being tried twice for the same offense, unless required by the interests of justice and depending on which party moved for the mistrial. Typically, there is no bar to a retrial if the defendant requests or consents to a mistrial. A retrial may be barred if the court grants a mistrial without the defendant's consent, or over his objection. If the mistrial results from judicial or prosecutorial misconduct, a retrial will be barred. In United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 91 S. Ct. 547, 27 L. Ed. 2d 543 (1971), the Supreme Court held that reprosecuting the defendant would constitute double jeopardy because the judge had abused his discretion in declaring a mistrial. On his own motion, the judge had declared a mistrial to enable government witnesses to consult with their own attorneys.


Criminal Procedure; Harmless Error; Hung Jury.


n. the termination of a trial before its normal conclusion because of a procedural error, statements by a witness, judge or attorney which prejudice a jury, a deadlock by a jury without reaching a verdict after lengthy deliberation (a "hung" jury), or the failure to complete a trial within the time set by the court. When such situations arise, the judge, either on his own initiative or upon the motion (request) of one of the parties will "declare a mistrial," dismiss the jury if there is one, and direct that the lawsuit or criminal prosecution be set for trial again, starting from the beginning. (See: trial)


noun abrogation, annulment, cancellation, collapse, disannulment, erroneous trial, failure, fruitless trial, innffective trial, invalid trial, nonfulfillment, nugaaory trial, nullification, nullity, revocation, terminated trial, unproductive trial, unsuccessful trial, useless trial, void trial, worthless trial
Associated concepts: deadlocked jury, declaration of a missrial, prejudicial error


a trial made void because of some error, such as a defect in procedure. In the US an inconclusive trial, as when a jury cannot agree on a verdict.

MISTRIAL. An erroneous trial on account of some defect in the persons trying, as if the jury come from the wrong county or because there was no issue formed, as if no plea be entered; or some other defect of jurisdiction. 3 Cro. 284; Hob. 5; 2 M. & S. 270.

References in periodicals archive ?
footnote omitted) Westen & Drubel, supra note 27, at 94 (noting that the state might attempt to mistrial rules "inorder to shop for a more favorable trier of fact[] or to correct deficiencies in its case").
The prosecutor who acts with the intention of goading the defendant into making a mistrial motion presumably does so because he believes that completion of the trial will likely result in an acquittal.
stating that "a defendant who did not move for a mistrial on the basis of intentional prosecutorial misconduct cannot invoke the double jeopardy clause to bar the state from retrying him after his conviction is reversed on that ground"), cert.
a prosecutor apprehending an acquittal encounters the jeopardy bar to retrial when he engages in misconduct of sufficient visibility to precipitate a mistrial motion, but not when he fends off the anticipated acquittal by misconduct of which the defendant is unaware until after the verdict.
759, 774-75 (1980) "[A] defendant who wishes to argue that if an appellate court finds that overreaching occurred which provoked his mistrial motion, then a mistrial should have been granted and double jeopardy should prohibit his retrial, will have to combat the dicta of Burks.
limiting Kennedy's retrial bar to situations in which the prosecutor specifically intended to provoke the mistrial request), cert.
The Court pointed out that a deliberate sabotaging of a trial, intended to goad the defendant into moving for a mistrial subverts that interest and must be protected by a bar against retrial.
For instance, one observer rationally might conclude that overt and extremely egregious misconduct was intended to cause the jury to convict a defendant, while another observer might conclude that such misconduct was intended to provoke a mistrial request.
Regardless of whether the Government's misbehavior was designed specifically to provoke a mistrial or was simply intended to reduce the chances of an acquittal, the net effect on the defendant is the same: he is faced with the burdens and risks of a second trial solely because the Government has deliberately undermined the integrity of the first proceeding.
Ordinarily, when the prosecutor injects error into the trial, grievous as that may be, the sanction is mistrial or reversal.