369 U.S. 141 (1962), 64, Fong Foo v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 64
Citation:369 U.S. 141, 82 S.Ct. 671, 7 L.Ed.2d 629
Party Name:Fong Foo v. United States
Case Date:March 19, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 141

369 U.S. 141 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 671, 7 L.Ed.2d 629

Fong Foo

v.

United States

No. 64

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 1962

Argued January 16, 1962

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners were brought to trial under a valid indictment in a Federal District Court which had jurisdiction over them and over the subject matter. After the Government had introduced part, but not all, of its evidence, the District Judge directed the jury to return verdicts of acquittal, and a formal judgment of acquittal was entered. The Government petitioned the Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus, praying that the judgment of acquittal be vacated and the case reassigned for trial. The Court of Appeals granted the petition on the ground that, under the circumstances revealed by the record, the District Court was without power to direct the judgment of acquittal.

Held: the judgment of the Court of Appeals was contrary to the guaranty of the Fifth Amendment against double jeopardy. Pp. 141-143.

286 F.2d 556, reversed.

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

The petitioners, a corporation and two of its employees, were brought to trial before a jury in a federal district court upon an indictment charging a conspiracy and the substantive offense of concealing material facts in a matter within the jurisdiction of an agency of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1001. After seven

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days of what promised to be a long and complicated trial, three government witnesses had appeared and a fourth was in the process of testifying. At that point, the district judge directed the jury to return verdicts of acquittal as to all the defendants, and a formal judgment of acquittal was subsequently entered.

The record shows that the district judge's action was based upon one or both of two grounds: supposed improper conduct on the part of the Assistant United States Attorney who was prosecuting the case, and a supposed lack of credibility in the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution who had testified up to that point.

The Government filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, praying that the judgment of acquittal be vacated and the case reassigned for trial. The court granted the petition, upon the ground that, under the circumstances revealed by the record, the trial court was without power to direct the judgment in question. Judge Aldrich concurred separately, finding that the directed judgment [82 S.Ct. 672] of acquittal had been based solely on the supposed improper conduct of the prosecutor, and agreeing with his colleagues that the district judge was without power to direct an acquittal on that ground. 286 F.2d 556. We granted certiorari to consider a question of importance in the administration of justice in the federal courts. 366 U.S. 959.

In holding that the District Court was without power to direct acquittals under the circumstances disclosed by the record, the Court of Appeals relied primarily upon two decisions of this Court, Ex parte United States, 242 U.S. 27, and Ex parte United States, 287 U.S. 241. In the first of these cases, it was held that a district judge had no power to suspend a mandatory prison sentence, and that a writ of mandamus would lie to require the judge to vacate his erroneous order of suspension. In the second case, the Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering a district

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judge to issue a bench warrant, which he had refused to do, in the purported exercise of his discretion, for a person under an indictment returned by a properly constituted grand jury.

Neither of those decisions involved the guaranty of the Fifth Amendment that no person shall "be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." That constitutional provision is at the very root of the present case, and we cannot but conclude that the guaranty was violated when the Court of Appeals set aside the judgment of acquittal and directed that the petitioners be tried again for the same offense.

The petitioners were tried under a valid indictment in a federal court which had jurisdiction over them and over the subject matter. The trial did not terminate prior to the entry of judgment, as in Gori v. United States, 367 U.S. 364. It terminated with the entry of a final judgment of acquittal as to each...

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