Joseph Petcka, the defendant charged with beating a cat to death in Manhattan, was neither convicted or acquitted by the jury that heard his case. Instead, the jury “hung” on the charges against him.
As a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a criminal defense attorney, I can tell you that more often than not, prosecutors are unhappy with this outcome. For prosecutors, the side that has the burden of proof, it is a sign that at least one of the jurors believed the cases was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether it was one juror or eleven, the prosecution must now decided whether or not to bring all the witnesses back to testify again or cut the defendant a good deal to dispose of the matter. Depending on the type of case, the time, expense, or difficulty in re-trying it may be overwhelming.
For a defendant and his or her attorney, a hung jury is often looked at differently. Obviously, an acquittal is the final adjudication that is sought, but a hung jury re-affirms possible weaknesses in a prosecutor’s case and gives the defense significant insight into what to expect in the event there is a second trial. In a way, it may be a bargaining chip for the defense to seek a better deal compared to what was previously offered or to try to convince the prosecution to drop their case all together.
While it is hard to speculate what Joseph Petcka’s next step may be, each side needs to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of trying the case a second time. Unlike the unfortunate cat that was mangled, Mr. Petcka will “live” to fight another day.