In this election year, let the news go forth: One vote can make a difference -- in a courtroom, at least. Last week, rumor had it that there was a single dissenting juror on the panel deciding the fates of former Tyco International (NYSE:TYC) Chairman Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Mark Swartz.

Everyone else on the jury, it was said, was more than willing to send these two corporate bigwigs to the slammer. But a lone voice in the legal wilderness, known only as "Juror No. 4," refused to be convinced of their guilt.

Unfortunately for No. 4, dissenting views are not always welcomed with open arms, even in this land of free speech. It now appears that No. 4 was threatened or coerced yesterday to throw in his vote with the majority and convict Messrs. Kozlowski and Swartz.

For Superior Court Judge Michael Obus, that was the last straw. A mistrial seemed likely in any event, if the jury could not get together on their decision. But if someone was tampering with the jurors, that fatally tainted the jury process.

So one way or another, the dissenting voice won out today. The judge in the case declared a mistrial and, as a result, Messrs. Kozlowski and Swartz are free men -- for the time being, at least. Prosecutors are almost certain to retry the pair. It was likely that a failure of the jury to agree on the executives' guilt would result in retrial. With the added time to refine their case, knowledge of what points seemed to strike home with the jurors, and a preview of the defense teams' legal strategies, prosecutors often find they have stronger cases on retrial than during the first go-around.

But if the mistrial ultimately resulted from jury tampering, and not from any flaw in their case, that is certain to get the prosecution fighting mad. Certainly mad enough to spend hundreds of thousands more in taxpayer dollars to fund the retrial. And hopefully, mad enough to make sure they nail their case next time.

The taxpayers of New York, and investors around the country, deserve no less.

What are your thoughts on the mistrial? Talk about it with other Fools on the Current Events discussion board.

Fool contributor and former Carroll County, Md., prosecutor Rich Smith has prosecuted felony theft before, but never anything on the scale of the $600 million allegedly looted in the Tyco scandal. He has no beneficial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.