Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Mistrial Definition:

A partial or complete trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity.

Related Terms: Sequestered Jury, Trial

A partial or complete trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity.

Justice Bertelsman of the United States Court of Appeals opined that a mistrial is when the occurrence of some extraordinary event, prejudicial error that cannot be corrected at trial, or a deadlocked jury peremptorily ends a trial prior to its normal conclusion.1

In R v Sukhdeo, Judge Antonio Discepola of the Montreal Municipal Court adopted this definition:

"Mistrial ... a device used to halt trial proceedings when error is so prejudicial and fundamental that expenditure of further time and expense would be wasteful if not futile, for prejudicial error that cannot be corrected at trial."

The sudden end of trial before it would ordinarily end because of some reason which invalidates it.

Once a mistrial is declared, the situation is as if the trial had never occurred.

Justice Esson of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, wrote in R v CHBC TV:

"To order a mistrial, particularly where the trial is well advanced, is a remedy of last resort. Mistrials often create huge and wasteful cost in terms of both time and money and can be profoundly unfair... to witnesses .... Such orders should be made only where there are substantial grounds for concluding that there is no other way of preserving the fairness of the trial."

Justice Jennings of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas wrote:

"Mistrial is an extreme remedy to which the court should resort only when there has been an error so prejudicial that justice cannot be served by continuing the trial."

Some other common reasons for a mistrial include the death of a juror or a serious procedural and prejudicial mistake made at the trial which cannot be corrected. An example might be a highly inflammatory and prejudicial remark made by an attorney during closing submissions to a jury, a remark which has no basis in the evidence that was set before the jury.

A mistrial is usually, but not always, resolved by the convening of a new jury and a fresh start to the trial.

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