Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Double Jeopardy and Due Process did not preclude trial on a bifurcated 922(g) count after the district court declared a mistrial on a 924(c) count.

The defendant in United States v. Figueroa, No. 11-2597 was charged with two counts of drug distribution, carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1), possession of a firearm by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). Figueroa admitted selling narcotics twice to an undercover officer. During the second sale, the officer testified that he saw a few inches of what he thought was a gun in Figueroa’s waistband. He could not be sure what the object was because it was dark outside. After that same sale, the police pulled over Figueroa’s girlfriend’s car, in which he was the passenger. During the stop, the police recovered a handgun from the glove compartment.  Both Figueroa and his girlfriend denied that they owned or even knew about the gun. At trial, the government prosecuted the 924(c) charge under the theory that Figueroa had a gun in his waistband during the controlled buy. They planned to prosecute the felon-in-possession charge in a bifurcated portion of the trial, adding the theory that Figueroa constructively possessed the gun in the glove compartment.

The jury convicted on the drug counts but was deadlocked on the 924(c) count. The district court declared a mistrial on that count, and originally thought a mistrial on the felon-in-possession count would also be proper. The jurors were dismissed. But the government argued that a finding of manifest necessity could not be made on the felon-in-possession count because the jury was never presented with that charge and its elements. The district judge had a court employee hold the jurors and researched the issue. The Court brought the jurors back for the bifurcated portion of the trial on the 922(g) charge, and the jury convicted. Figueroa appealed, contending that the district court’s decision to bring back the jury and hold the bifurcated felon-in-possession portion of the trial violated his Double Jeopardy and Due Process rights under the Fifth Amendment.

On the Due Process issue, the Third Circuit framed the inquiry as whether the jurors were susceptible to outside influences when they were originally told they were dismissed. If the jurors are “undispersed,” under the control of the court, and cannot discuss the case with others, they can be recalled. The Third Circuit explained that the district court judge did not allow the jurors to disperse and they were not exposed to any outside influences. Accordingly, the district court did not err when it recalled the jury to hear evidence and argument and deliberate on the felon-in-possession count.

Turning to Figueroa’s Double Jeopardy rights, the Third Circuit explained that a reprosecution is only barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause where a mistrial is required by manifest necessity. In this case, there was no manifest necessity for a mistrial on the felon-in-possession count because the jury had not even deliberated on that charge. Therefore, none of the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy protections were implicated in Figueroa’s case. The Third Circuit explained that, if anything, the district court’s actions were probably required to avoid prejudice to the government.

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