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Hasty Mistrial Ruling Leads to Double JeopardyThe fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a defendant from being tried more than once for the same crime, which is known as double jeopardy. The prosecution can seek a second trial with a new jury if the first attempt ended in a mistrial, which most commonly occurs when a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict. A court may also declare a mistrial if it believes that a jury has been prejudiced to the point that it cannot reach an unbiased verdict. However, a mistrial must be the court’s last resort, after considering other options to preserve the trial. An Illinois appellate court recently ruled that the state could not start a new trial against a defendant because the trial court was not justified in declaring a mistrial in the first prosecution attempt.

Case Details

In People v. Shoevlin, a woman was charged with two counts of domestic battery for allegedly attacking her husband. The two parties were separated at the time of the alleged incident and filed for divorce afterward. The defense built its case on the idea that the husband had an incentive to lie about the incident in order to gain a majority of the parental responsibility for their children. During the closing arguments, the defense said that the man was trying to ruin the woman’s life with the charge because she would likely lose her children. After the statement, the judge privately met with the counsel for both sides, saying that it was inaccurate to claim that the state would take her children away as a condition of her conviction. After deliberating for five minutes, the judge brought the jury back in the room and declared a mistrial. The judge’s reasoning was that:

  • Telling the jury to disregard the defense counsel’s statement would not prevent prejudice; and
  • Discrediting the defense counsel would mean that the defendant would appeal a potential conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Appeal

When prosecutors started a new trial, the defense motioned to dismiss the trial because it would be subjecting the defendant to double jeopardy. The trial court rejected the motion, but the appellate court reversed that decision. The court stated that it is important to limit a defendant’s prosecution to one trial whenever possible because having multiple trials:

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