Writ of Mandamus issues when District Court refuses to instruct jury on all elements of charged offense.
While reiterating its general rule that mandamus is “a drastic remedy that is seldom issued and its use is discouraged,” the Third Circuit nevertheless found “the kind of extraordinary situation in which we are empowered to issue the writ of mandamus,” in United States v. Higden, No. 10-3882 (March 17, 2011).
The District Court then scheduled a second trial. Before the second trial, the Government filed a motion in limine to ensure that the jury was properly instructed on all three elements of the charge, and that the Government could present evidence (including the stipulation) on all three elements. The District Court denied the motion. The Government appealed and petitioned for mandamus.
As for mandamus, the Court ruled that the Government had met both requirements for issuing a writ: 1) that the Government had no other adequate means for relief; and 2) that the Government’s right to the writ was clear and indisputable. The Court stated that “it is crystal clear” that the Government had no other avenue to compel the District Court to instruct the jury on all three elements of the charge. And the Court stated further that the District Court’s insistence on giving an improper jury charge was “clear and indisputable error”. Therefore, finding this “an extraordinary situation”, the Court granted the petition for mandamus, and remanded, directing the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to reassign the case to another district court judge.
Finally, on an
Finally, on aneditorial note, it is clear from Chief Judge McKee’s opinion that the Court granted the petition for mandamus because of the extreme circumstances, characterizing the situation “as unfortunate as it is regrettable.” Although stating that the Court was “simply at a loss to explain the [district] court's behavior," the Court did observe that “Judge Fullam is a very experienced and hard working jurist and he has devoted decades of service to the federal bench.” Six days after this decision was issued, Judge Fullam stated his intention to resign.