Judge Charles Campbell declared a mistrial in the high profile murder trial of Brandon McInerney. A mistrial is declared for many different reasons, but in this case it was declared because the jury was hopelessly deadlocked and was unable to reach an unanimous decision on either the murder charge or the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.
The twelve member jury is reported to have deliberated for over 17 hours and was ultimately unable to reach a decision. In criminal cases in California, 12 jurors must reach an unanimous decision in order to find a criminal defendant either not guilty or guilty. In this case, the jury was unable to do so and even after about three full court days of discussing the case, they could not reach a decision. This is also known as a “hung jury”.
Once the jury notifies the judge that they cannot reach a decision, the judge must determine if he or she thinks more time in deliberation will help or if it is futile. Sometimes judges will ask if there has been a vote on guilt or innocence, and if so, what was the break down of the vote. Has there been more than one vote? If so, was there any change from one vote to the next. In some rare cases, the judge will allow the lawyers to re-argue an aspect of the case. And, jurors are allowed to ask questions of the judge, to review any evidence admitted during the course of the trial and to ask for read-back of testimony the jury feels might be helpful. And, after all this, if the jury still cannot reach a verdict, then the judge has no choice but to declare a mistrial.
For the criminal defendant, it is still not over. At this point, the prosecutor must determine if they wish to began a re-trial or they may dismiss the case if they believe justice allows. The judge must also decide if he wishes to dismiss the case based upon an apparent inability to gain a conviction by the prosecutor. Also, the prosecution and defense can reach a settlement agreement after a hung jury and before a re-trial.
For now 17 year old Brandon McInerney, his fate will likely rest in the hands of another jury. I would anticipate the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office will seek a re-trial and a would guess that such a trial would be held in Ventura County the second time around.
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