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Government of Virgin Islands v. Scuito


decided: June 25, 1980.



Before Adams, Maris and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams


In this appeal from a conviction for forcible rape,*fn1 the defendant Louis Scuito asserts two errors: (1) The trial judge erred in not barring a new trial on double jeopardy grounds after a mistrial was declared on Scuito's motion because of certain prejudicial questions asked by the prosecutor. (2) The trial judge abused or failed to exercise his discretion in denying the defendant's motion for a psychiatric examination of the complainant. Finding neither ground persuasive, we will affirm the conviction.


The complainant worked as a waitress at the Drunken Shrimp restaurant, where the defendant was a frequent patron. When the complainant worked late on the night of July 9, 1978, the owner of the restaurant arranged for Scuito to give the complainant a ride to her apartment. It is undisputed that Scuito took a detour down a beach road, where the two had sexual intercourse, after which he took the complainant home. The crucial issue at trial was solely whether she consented.

According to the complainant, Scuito turned down the beach road to relieve himself, and then continued to a turnaround, stopped the jeep, and began kissing her. She expressed lack of interest, but the defendant then told her he had a knife and would throw her into the ocean if she did not cooperate. She testified that she did not actually see the knife in the dark, but felt "something metal" cut into her neck, after which she ceased resistance and attempted to calm him and avoid harm by cooperating. At trial there was medical and other testimony of a cut on the side of the complainant's neck where she said the knife was held. After taking off her clothes, the defendant raped and sodomized her. During the course of the assault she prayed and recited her "mantra."*fn2 Upon being dropped off at home, she kissed the defendant on the forehead because, she testified, "I was praying for him" and "it was just kind of like an end to the prayer."

Scuito testified that he casually knew the complainant and her sister and had previously driven them home from the restaurant. He said that on the night of July 9, when he gave the complainant a ride to her apartment, she seemed "a little spaced, not all there." While riding home, she offered him marijuana and he drove off the main road to smoke it with her. He later "came on to her," he said. Although initially she protested, he eventually changed her mind without using or threatening any physical force.

Prior to the first trial there had been a discussion between counsel and the court regarding the admissibility of evidence that Scuito previously had raped another young woman after threatening to shoot her with a flare gun. Defense counsel contended that such evidence would be relevant only if the defendant put his character in issue, which he did not at that time intend to do. The prosecutor agreed not to mention the other alleged rape in the opening statement to the jury, but reserved the right to seek admission of the evidence under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b),*fn3 if the testimony that was adduced created the opportunity. The trial judge asserted that the evidence could be admissible only if he became satisfied that it was relevant and met the Fed.R.Evid. 403 standard of probative value outweighing prejudice to the defendant. "For that purpose," he said, "I will hear testimony to be offered outside of the presence of the jury and make that determination."

The defense called two witnesses at the first trial: the defendant himself and a next-door neighbor who was defendant's former roommate. The latter answered "no" to defense counsel's question whether he knew anything about the defendant that would indicate any abnormal sexual behavior on his part. Prior to cross-examining the former roommate, the prosecutor asked for "a ruling with respect to my specific question," to which the court replied, "Well, ask the question, I don't give any rulings in advance." The prosecutor thereafter asked the witness whether he would consider rape to be abnormal sexual behavior. The next question, "Would your consider a man that took a flare gun ," was interrupted by defense counsel's objection that the prosecutor "was getting into the same line we were discussing previously."

Asked if the question was a hypothetical one, "not related to the facts," the prosecutor replied: "It is not related to the facts of this case." The objection was overruled and the prosecutor asked: "Would you consider a man taking a flare gun, holding it at a woman and telling her he will disfigure her if she didn't allow him to have intercourse with her, would you consider that to be abnormal, aberrant sexual behavior?" After an affirmative reply, the prosecutor asked, "If you had heard ," only to be cut off by the court disallowing the question and indicating that it "goes to something that has not been put in issue." Shortly thereafter, when the defense rested and the jury was excused, defense counsel moved for a mistrial on the basis of the question about the flare gun.

The trial judge granted a mistrial, and said he based his decision on three incidents in the trial. First, when the owner of the Drunken Shrimp testified, she made two spontaneous outbursts indicating her belief that Scuito was guilty.*fn4 Second, the complainant had put the defendant's character in issue by suggesting he had had homosexual relationships. Third was the reference to the flare gun.

In motions preceding the second trial, the defendant asked that the indictment be dismissed on double jeopardy grounds, or, if it were not, for an order requiring a psychiatric examination of the complainant "and further providing that the results of (the) examination be made available to the defense for possible use at trial." Both motions were denied and, after a trial with essentially the same evidence as in the first, but without the prejudicial incidents noted by the judge, Scuito was convicted.


The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment protects a defendant in a criminal proceeding against repeated prosecutions for the same offense as well as against multiple punishments. Underlying the safeguard is the belief that the state should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual. United States v. Dinitz, 424 U.S. 600, 606, 96 S. Ct. 1075, 1079, 47 L. Ed. 2d 267 (1976). The reach of the clause's bar to successive prosecutions may extend to terminations of trials by mistrials as well as by acquittals. Because the accused has a "valued right . . . to have his trial completed by the particular tribunal summoned to sit in judgment on him," Downum v. United States, 372 U.S. 734, 736, 83 S. Ct. 1033, 1034, 10 L. Ed. 2d 100 (1963), a mistrial on the prosecution's motion or by the court on its own initiative should be declared only when there is "manifest necessity" for it. United States v. Perez, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 579, 256, 6 L. Ed. 165 (1824).

Different considerations have been held to apply to mistrials declared on a defendant's motion as opposed to those declared without the defendant's assent. Whereas the "manifest necessity" standard applies to the latter, with the former a retrial is barred only when the circumstances causing the mistrial are " "attributable to prosecutorial or judicial overreaching.' " United States v. Dinitz, 424 U.S. 600, 607, 96 S. Ct. 1075, 1079, 47 L. Ed. 2d 267 (1976) (quoting United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 481, 91 S. Ct. 547, 555, 27 L. Ed. 2d 543 (1971) ). Defendants are to be protected against " "bad faith' conduct by judge or prosecutor," as when government actions are "intended to provoke mistrial requests." Id., 424 U.S. at 611, 96 S. Ct. at 1081. Elsewhere the Supreme Court has stated: "Where the defendant, by requesting a mistrial, exercised his choice in favor of terminating the trial, the Double Jeopardy Clause generally would not stand in the way of reprosecution. Only if the underlying error was "motivated by bad faith or undertaken to harass or prejudice,' . . . would there be any barrier to retrial." Lee v. United States, 432 U.S. 23, 32-33, 97 S. Ct. 2141, 2147, 53 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1977) (quoting Downum, 424 U.S. at 611, 96 S. Ct. at 1081).

Scuito argues that the trial judge erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment by applying the wrong legal standard to his double jeopardy claim. He contends that the court required a showing of "substantial prosecutorial misconduct," whereas "gross negligence" ought to be sufficient.*fn5 On the other hand, the Government urges us to restrict the double jeopardy bar to mistrials declared because of prosecutorial recklessness.*fn6

The practical difference between "gross negligence" and "recklessness" is not always clear,*fn7 although both connote a more extreme departure from a reasonable standard of conduct than does "mere negligence," which is clearly insufficient to preclude reprosecution.*fn8

Assuming that either gross negligence or recklessness might constitute prosecutorial overreaching that would trigger the double jeopardy bar to retrial,*fn9 and assuming that a significantly lower level of egregiousness could be termed gross negligence but not recklessness,*fn10 we conclude that a retrial was nevertheless permissible in this case. The first two reasons given by the judge in declaring a mistrial concerned events not attributable to prosecutorial misconduct. The improper utterances of the restaurant owner were spontaneous and in no way elicited by the prosecutor. It is somewhat unclear whether the prosecution or defense first put the defendant's character in issue,*fn11 but since defense counsel did not object we find it somewhat incongruous for him now to claim that any error in questioning as to character constituted gross negligence.

The only significant question, therefore, is how to describe the prosecutor's introduction of questions about the flare gun incident. The most accurate characterization, we believe, and the one seemingly put forth by the trial judge, is that the improper questioning was the result of a misunderstanding.*fn12

It had been decided at pretrial discussions that the alleged other rape would not be mentioned in the prosecutor's opening statement and that the prosecutor would request a hearing out of the presence of the jury if subsequent events led the government to believe the evidence was admissible. The prosecutor did not in fact mention the incident in her opening statement and believed she was complying with the pretrial decision when she asked for a sidebar conference. Thinking more routine matters were at stake, the judge instructed her to continue questioning and said that he would wait for an objection before making a ruling.

The trial judge ascribed no bad motives to the prosecutor's conduct and indeed, concluded that, at most, "misjudgment" rather than "misconduct" was involved.*fn13 Thus, whether the standard be gross negligence, recklessness, or misconduct of a more intentional nature, any prosecutorial error in conducting the first trial did not trigger the Fifth Amendment's bar to double jeopardy.


As an alternative to his double jeopardy claim, Scuito moved before the second trial for a psychiatric examination of the complainant. In a supporting affidavit, his attorney made the following specific representations:

(1) I have been informed by any number of persons in the community that the said complainant appears to be often, if not almost constantly, in a "spaced out" or trancelike state; I have personally observed this; I have been further informed by persons in the community that the said complainant is addicted to, and does continually use, controlled substances, and that she is frequently in altered states of consciousness therefrom; and I have further observed and been told of the said complainant's habit of dressing and being seen publically in see-through top garments which seem indicative of socially aberrant behavior;

(2) Further, my observation of the said complainant at the first trial herein showed, in my opinion, a rather strange and mysterious countenance on her part, and her testimony appeared strange, not only from the standpoint of her account of not reporting the alleged crimes until the next day, but particularly from her admitted interest and devotion to a certain book, written by a guru devotee of Timothy Leary which contains passages of religious-like worship of LSD and other mind-altering drugs; (and)

(3) That the foregoing observations are highly indicative of a personality which fantasizes to extremes and which indulges in and seeks altered states of consciousness(.)

The trial judge denied the motion because to require a psychiatric examination "would violate the spirit of (Fed.R.Evid.) 412." Scuito contends that any reliance on Rule 412 is legal error and that, by relying on the rule, the judge either abused his discretion or failed properly to exercise his discretion. It is apparent, though the defendant does not so state, that different consequences would flow from these alternative conclusions: if the judge abused his discretion to the prejudice of defendant, a new trial should be ordered; if he failed to exercise his discretion out of a mistaken belief that Rule 412 controlled the issue, we should remand so that he may consider the matter anew. We conclude that the court exercised its discretion and that it was not abused.

Defendant does not press the extreme position, espoused by Wigmore, that a psychiatric examination of a complainant should be required in all sexual offense prosecutions.*fn14 Rather, defendant agrees with the Government that the decision to order an examination is "entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial judge in light of the particular facts." United States v. Benn, 155 U.S. App. D.C. 180, 476 F.2d 1127, 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1972) (Bazelon, C. J.); see Ballard v. Superior Court, 64 Cal.2d 159, 49 Cal.Rptr. 302, 313, 410 P.2d 838, 849 (Cal.1966). But cf. United States v. Dildy, 39 F.R.D. 340, 342 (D.D.C.1966) (courts have no power absent a statute to compel complainant to submit to psychiatric examination).

This discretion is not, of course, unbounded, for there are countervailing considerations weighing heavily against ordering a psychiatric examination of a complainant. As set out by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, they are that

a psychiatric examination may seriously impinge on a witness' right to privacy; the trauma that attends the role of complainant to sex offense charges is sharply increased by the indignity of a psychiatric examination; the examination itself could serve as a tool of harassment; and the impact of all these considerations may well deter the victim of such a crime from lodging any complaint at all.

United States v. Benn, 476 F.2d at 1131. Benn, it should be noted, held that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in declining to order the examination of an admittedly mentally defective complainant.*fn15

Fed.R.Evid. 412 is specifically addressed to evidence of a rape victim's prior sexual conduct,*fn16 whereas defendant's motion was not an attempt to introduce such evidence, but an effort to obtain an expert opinion regarding the complainant's general ability to perceive reality and separate fact from fantasy. Because the rule does not directly apply to his motion, the defendant argues that the court either abused or did not exercise its discretion in denying the motion. The judge's ruling, however, was not based on the letter but on the spirit of Rule 412. The principal purpose of that rule is, as its legislative history demonstrates,*fn17 quite similar to the countervailing considerations quoted above: "to protect rape victims from the degrading and embarrassing disclosure of intimate details about their private lives."*fn18 The rationale, according to one commentator, "is to prevent the victim, rather than the defendant, from being put on trial."*fn19

We hold that in relying on the spirit of Rule 412 the trial judge exercised discretion, and that nothing alleged in defense counsel's affidavit indicates that he abused his discretion. To the extent admissible, and we express no opinion on that matter, evidence that the complainant was thought by members of the community to indulge in drugs leading to "altered states of consciousness" or to dress in a manner "indicative of socially aberrant behavior" could be introduced by direct rather than expert testimony. If, however, such matters are not relevant or otherwise admissible, there is no justification for letting them into the trial by allowing an expert to give his opinion regarding them. As to defense counsel's observations of the complainant at the first trial, we note that the trial judge as well had an opportunity to observe whether her manner or testimony was sufficiently indicative of mental disturbance to justify a psychiatric examination.


The judgment of the trial court will be affirmed.

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