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Legal Meaning of the Cosby Mistrial

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that Bill Cosby’s trial resulted in a mistrial on Saturday.   The jury came back to the judge, for the second time, on Saturday and informed him that they could not reach a verdict.  As a result, the Court declared a “mistrial.” So, what is the legal meaning of the Cosby mistrial?  What happens next?

When trial has ended and the jurors go to the jury room to deliberate, this should be their first opportunity to talk about the evidence as a group and apply law to make decisions.   During the trial, the jury is instructed not to discuss the case among themselves or with anyone else.  The process is designed so that no discussions are had, and no decisions are made, until all of the evidence has been presented and the Court has had the opportunity to educate the jury about the law (the “jury charge”).  If you’ve ever been on jury duty you may recall that the Court tells you not to discuss the case, or make any decisions about the facts, etc., while the case is ongoing.   If the jury adheres to the Court’s instructions, that first meeting in the jury room after the charge is the beginning of the conversation about the evidence, the law and the verdict.


A jury verdict of guilty must result from a unanimous (completely agreed) decision.  This can be difficult if all jurors do not agree on the verdict after consideration of the evidence. Perhaps one juror feels that a particular element has not been met.  Perhaps another juror doesn’t find a witness credible.  We all bring our common sense into the room, but we also all have our own perspective.   When the minds of the jurors cannot come to a unanimous decision, they turn to the court.  The court can either re-educate the jury on the law if that seems to be the issue with the verdict.  The judge can also send them back into the room and encourage them to further deliberate.  This happened once in the Cosby trial.  It was only the second time that the jurors came back when the Court decided that they were unable to make that final decision and declared a mistrial.


From here, the prosecutors have the decision to either dismiss the case or to retry the defendant.  Rarely is a case dismissed after mistrial.  One might assume that with such a celebrated case, and with all the time and energy already placed upon trying the case the first time, the prosecution will once again try the defendant.  The case will start again with a new jury in hopes that the evidence presents in such a way, and the jurors evaluate it in such a way, that a final verdict can be determined.


Only time will tell how this case will proceed.  I am interested to find out!

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