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UNITED STATES v. VENABLE

May 3, 1978

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
EDWARD G. VENABLE



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DITTER

 Defendant, Edward G. Venable, was convicted by a jury of two counts of making false statements to a grand jury and acquitted on three counts of extortion. However, I granted defendant's motion for a new trial because the prosecutor had improperly commented upon Venable's failure to testify, thus violating his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. *fn1" Defendant then moved to bar retrial on both false statement counts on the ground of double jeopardy and, as to one of the counts, on the basis of collateral estoppel. Following oral argument, both motions were denied. The defendant has appealed, and this opinion is being filed to explain my reasons for denying his motions. *fn2"

 At trial, the government's chief witness was Joseph Baldino, who testified that he gave defendant, the chairman of the Delaware County Housing Authority, $500. on three specified dates in 1973 as payment for Baldino's being awarded architectural work for the authority. The jury found defendant not guilty on each of the extortion counts arising out of these alleged occasions. Nevertheless, the jury also convicted defendant on Count V of the indictment, which, in essence, alleges that Venable lied during his grand jury testimony when he denied that he received these payments from Baldino. Defendant now argues that a reprosecution on Count V would be an unconstitutional, unfair relitigation of facts and allegations which were the subject matter of an earlier acquittal, thus violating the doctrine of collateral estoppel. *fn3" In other words, Venable asserts, the ultimate issue at trial was whether he received these payments and by acquitting him on the extortion charges, the jury decided that he had not. By retrying Count V, he continues, the government is simply retrying the extortion counts under the label of making a false statement. I do not agree.

 In Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 445, 90 S. Ct. 1189, 1195, 25 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1970), the Supreme Court recognized that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is embodied within the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy. Justice Stewart, writing for the majority, noted:

 
"Collateral estoppel" is an awkward phrase, but it stands for an extremely important principle in our adversary system of justice. It means simply that when a issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit. Although first developed in civil litigation, collateral estoppel has been an established rule of federal criminal law at least since this Court's decision more than 50 years ago in United States v. Oppenheimer, 242 U.S. 85, 37 S. Ct. 68, 61 L. Ed. 161. Id. at 443, 90 S. Ct. at 1194 (emphasis added).

 The Court in Ashe prohibited successive prosecutions based on the same evidence to protect the accused from having "to run the gauntlet a second time." *fn4" But Justice Stewart also commented that the principle must be applied with

 
. . . realism and rationality. Where a previous judgment of acquittal was based upon a general verdict, as is usually the case, this approach requires a court to "examine the record of a prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration " (footnote omitted) (emphasis added). Id. at 444, 90 S. Ct. at 1194.

 There is no question that the same parties are involved. But the government contends, and I agree, that the jury could have and did ground its guilty verdict on evidence other than that which formed the basis for their acquittal on the extortion charge.

 The keel for the decision in Ashe was a general verdict which, since it stood alone, made it impossible to ascertain "exactly what facts were necessarily found as a predicate to that verdict." United States v. Brown, 547 F.2d 438, 441 (8th Cir. 1977). The jury in the instant case also rendered a general verdict. But two notes from the jury show how it reached its decision. The first read:

 
"Sir, we believe that Mr. Venable was untruthful before the grand jury. We do not believe that the Government proved any instances of personal payoffs beyond a reasonable doubt.
 
Does this deal with a personal payoff or his personal knowledge of other payoffs?" (N.T. 6-24-6-25). (emphasis added).

 After rereading the second paragraph of Count V to them, *fn5" I instructed the jury members that it was the government's contention that defendant "was untruthful because he did know that he had made a solicitation and that he had received money, but he denied having made the solicitation and having received money" (N.T. 6-26). Shortly thereafter, I received the second note which said:

 
"Your Honor, we stand firm as to our decision of Mr. Venable's untruthfulness. However, we do not have enough evidence to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the first three counts of extortion. We are not sure that they took place on the dates specified in the indictment. Does this matter?" (N.T. 6-27). (emphasis added).

 The jury was brought back into the courtroom and the members were individually polled on the perjury ...


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