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United States v. Wright

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 30, 2017



          Cathy Bissoon United States District Judge


         A. BACKGROUND

         On December 30, 2014, the Defendant, Raymont Wright, was indicted and charged with one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and 924(e). (Doc. 1). Defendant went to trial on this charge in May 2016. During trial, the government presented the testimony of several law enforcement officers involved in Mr. Wright's arrest. Defendant did not testify or present any witnesses. The jury deliberated for a full day before they declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked. This conclusion came after the Court requested that they continue to deliberate. The Court then declared a mistrial.

         In March 2017, Defendant's second trial began before a different jury. The government relied upon the same fact witnesses, and their testimony was substantially identical to their testimony in the first trial. The only noteworthy difference between the two trials was the government's admission of two experts to opine generally about law enforcement's ability to obtain fingerprint and DNA evidence from a firearm, neither of which was recovered in this case. The jury deliberations in the second trial took place over two days. At one point, the jury informed the Court of a deadlock, and the Court instructed the jury to continue deliberating. It soon became apparent that this jury also was hopelessly deadlocked, and another mistrial was declared.

         After the second mistrial, the government noticed its intent to retry Mr. Wright for a third time. The Court then ordered the parties to “file cross-briefs stating their position regarding whether the Court, through an exercise of its inherent authority, should prohibit or permit a second re-trial in this case.” (Doc. 124). The parties filed briefing on this issue on March 23, 2017.[1]

         B. ANALYSIS

         The government has tried this case twice in ten months. This Court has now twice declared a mistrial because neither jury could reach a verdict even after the Court encouraged them to deliberate further. The government is now asking for a third bite at the apple. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the government's request, and dismiss the Indictment with prejudice, pursuant to its inherent authority.

         1. The Court's Inherent Authority to Dismiss Indictments Following Multiple Mistrials

         It is well established that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution does not prohibit retrial of a defendant when a prior prosecution for the same offense has ended in a mistrial due to the inability of the jury to agree on a verdict. See United States v. Perez, 22 U.S. 579 (1824) (holding that the genuine inability of the jury to reach a unanimous verdict within a reasonable period constitutes “manifest necessity” for discharge of the jury and permits retrial of the accused). The Court finds, however, that the principles animating the double jeopardy provision are equally applicable to a defendant who faces multiple retrials following a mistrial - that is, “[t]he double jeopardy provision was intended to preclude the defendant from being subjected to multiple prosecutions and the consequent increased risk of conviction.” U.S. ex rel. Webb v. Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia Cty., 516 F.2d 1034, 1040 (3d Cir.1975).

As the United States Supreme Court stated in Green v. United States:
The underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.
355 U.S. 184

         Recognizing the risks of allowing multiple trials, the Supreme Court explained in Arizona v. Washington:

Even if the first trial is not completed, a second prosecution may be grossly unfair. It increases the financial and emotional burden on the accused, prolongs the period in which he is stigmatized by an unresolved accusation of wrongdoing, and may even enhance the risk that an innocent defendant may be convicted. The danger of such unfairness to the defendant exists whenever a trial is aborted before it is completed. Consequently, as a general rule, the prosecutor is entitled to one, and only one, opportunity to require an accused to stand trial.
434 U.S. 497

         Here, we have a Defendant who has stood trial not once, but twice, for the same charge. As both parties here recognize, the Court has inherent authority “to effectuate . . . the speedy and orderly administration of justice” and “to ensure fundamental fairness.” United States v. Richter, 488 F.2d 170, 173-74 (9th Cir. 1973). Although a retrial in this case may not violate Mr. Wright's constitutional rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause, there certainly is a question as to whether retrying him a third time violates the precepts of “fundamental fairness.”

         In light of this question, the Court ordered the parties to brief whether it should dismiss the Indictment in this case pursuant to its inherent authority. Notably, in their briefing, neither party has cited to - nor has the Court located - any case law within the Third Circuit holding that a district court may or may not dismiss an indictment following multiple mistrials pursuant to its inherent authority. Accordingly, the Court regards this as a matter of first impression in the Third Circuit, and will look to cases outside the Circuit for guidance.

         The parties have identified at least two cases where federal district courts have relied on their inherent authority to dismiss an indictment with prejudice after determining that reprosecution would violate the precepts of fundamental fairness. In United States v. Ingram, 412 F.Supp. 384 (D.D.C. 1976), the court dismissed the indictment after ...

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