Posted on August 15, 2020 in Arizona Law
Recently, an Arizona teacher went to trial on charges of aiding migrants by leaving water for them on Federal land. After fifteen hours of deliberation, the jury could not reach a verdict, resulting in a hung jury. The teacher had been tried before for the same offense, and the previous trial also resulted in a hung jury. Wait, a second time? Isn’t that the definition of double-jeopardy?
Not exactly. In Arizona, juries must unanimously find the defendant guilty or not guilty. If they are unable to reach either verdict unanimously, the result is a hung jury. A judge in a hung jury trial can set a new trial date within sixty days.
In Arizona, those charged with criminal offenses are entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers. The state prosecutor and the defense attorney each have an opportunity to present opening arguments, bring witnesses, and present evidence to the jury. Once both sides have presented their case in full, the jury is then instructed that they must decide that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or find the defendant not guilty.
The burden of proof is higher in criminal trials than in civil trials. In a criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. There is not any requirement for the defendant to prove that they are innocent. Instead, a legal defense team will focus on creating reasonable doubt.
The burden of proof for “beyond a reasonable doubt” means each jury member must be firmly convinced that the accusation is true. The burden does not mean “any possible doubt.” The prosecutor must convince the jury that it is reasonable to convict the person, not offer complete certainty that the person committed the crime.
When all twelve jurors cannot reach a unanimous agreement about the verdict, then the trial ends in a hung jury. Judges do not limit the amount of time a jury deliberates about the outcome of the trial. However, once in the deliberation state, there are times it becomes clear that a jury will be unable to reach a unanimous decision.
When the jury fails to reach an agreement unanimously, the judge will declare a mistrial. A mistrial means the results of the preceding trial were inconclusive. For legal purposes, the trial will be treated as though it never happened. Since the trial is treated as though it did not happen, double jeopardy does not apply.
The state has three options after a hung jury. These options are:
The state retains the right to determine how they will proceed after a hung jury, and each of the three options has its pros and cons, depending on the case.
The state has an advantage if it tries the case a second time. It learned where its case was weak and can attempt to correct that in a second trial. The findings of a second trial are binding. The downside to trying a case again is that the defense also knows where the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s case exist.
If the alleged crime is a felony, especially a violent crime such as a sexual assault, armed robbery, or if the crime involved child pornography, or child molestation, it will be challenging to escape media attention, which can taint the jury pool.
Trials are expensive, time-consuming, and the prosecutor for the state has plenty of other cases waiting for their attention. The state can remain confident that a defendant is guilty, but unsure if they will win a conviction at a second trial. In these situations, they may offer a new plea deal.
The state may decide to dismiss the charges for numerous reasons after a hung jury. If it was a relatively minor misdemeanor offense, the state might be unwilling to spend the resources a second trial will take. The state may also be unconvinced that they can win a conviction after seeing the outcome of the first trial. When the state dismisses charges, they have the option to do so with or without prejudice.
When the charges are dismissed with prejudice, the criminal charge cannot be prosecuted again. If the charges are dismissed without prejudice, it can be prosecuted again. When the charges are dismissed without prejudice, the state must bring charges within six months or before the statute of limitations expires, whichever is first.
If you are facing criminal charges, or your last trial resulted in a hung jury, you need the skills and experience of a criminal defense lawyer in Arizona. Many criminal defense attorneys will offer a free case evaluation to help you determine the best path forward with your case. You have a right to a defense attorney, so do not attempt to represent yourself when there is so much at stake.