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How Mistrials Happen & How to Prevent Them

February 15, 2017

By definition, a mistrial is a court trial that cannot be completed because something significantly affects the fairness of the trial. Since this is a courtroom trial that is terminated before its intended conclusion, it has no legal effect and is considered to be invalid. This is problematic for law enforcement looking to prosecute criminals and one of the main reasons why police evidence bags are used.

In this article, we’ll talk about the ways that mistrials commonly happen and how to prevent the mishandling of evidence in court cases.

Common Causes of Mistrials

One of the most common reasons to declare a mistrial is when a jury is unable to return a unanimous verdict, which is called a hung jury. A lack of jurisdiction and improper jury selection can also lead to a mistrial.

When evidence is tampered with or not properly preserved in evidence bags to preserve the contents, this can lead to a mistrial. And in certain circumstances, the death or illness of a juror or key attorney could cause a mistrial as well.  Defendants are often the ones that benefit from a mistrial, and therefore, defense attorneys typically request them more often than prosecutors do.

When Mistrials Happen

Essentially, mistrials can happen at any stage of a court case. They can be caused early-on by the mishandling of evidence, at the very end of a trial when it’s time for a verdict, or anytime in between. At any stage of the court process, the judge must decide with extreme scrutiny whether a mistrial is warranted or not.

This is especially complex in criminal prosecutions because a mistrial could prevent a defendant from going to court again in the future due to the Double Jeopardy provision of the Fifth Amendment. This particular provision states that an individual cannot be taken to trial twice for the same crime in some circumstances.

The Importance of Evidence Handling

Proper evidence handling is a crucial step in preventing a mistrial. If crime scene evidence is handled without wearing gloves, damaged in any way, or tampered with, it could be grounds for a mistrial and put a dangerous criminal back onto the streets. At times, a single piece of evidence is the key to proving a case when other factors are more circumstantial. Not only is the collection of evidence important, but also the transportation of it as it passes through multiple hands to present before the judge.

The Role of Police Evidence Bags

Police evidence bags help law enforcement personnel reduce the risk of a mistrial during the phases of evidence collection, taking evidence back to the station, and transporting evidence to the courtroom to use as exhibits. At Superior Bag, we offer evidence bags that are trusted by law enforcement departments to document case numbers, agencies, officers involved, key dates, suspects, victims, and the location of the crime scene. These plastic evidence bags also establish a chain of custody to reduce the risk of tampering. There are many factors in a case that could lead to a mistrial but improperly handled evidence doesn’t have to be one of them when you use detailed and reliable police evidence bags.

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