434 U.S. 497 (1978), 76-1168, Arizona v. Washington

Docket Nº:No. 76-1168
Citation:434 U.S. 497, 98 S.Ct. 824, 54 L.Ed.2d 717
Party Name:Arizona v. Washington
Case Date:February 21, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 497

434 U.S. 497 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 824, 54 L.Ed.2d 717




No. 76-1168

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 21, 1978

Argued October 31, 1977




After respondent was found guilty of murder, the Arizona trial court granted a new trial because the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. At the beginning of the new trial, the trial judge, after extended argument, granted the prosecutor's motion for a mistrial predicated on improper and prejudicial comment during defense counsel's opening statement that evidence had been hidden from respondent at the first trial, but the judge did not expressly find that there was "manifest necessity" for a mistrial or expressly state that he had considered alternative solutions. The Arizona Supreme Court refused to review the mistrial ruling, and respondent sought a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court. While agreeing that defense counsel's opening statement was improper, that court held that respondent could not be placed in further jeopardy and granted the writ because the state trial judge had failed to find "manifest necessity" for a mistrial. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Although the extent of the possible juror bias cannot be measured and some trial judges might have proceeded with the trial after giving the jury appropriate cautionary instructions, nevertheless the overriding interest in the evenhanded administration of justice requires that the highest degree of respect be accorded to the trial judge's decision to declare a mistrial based on his assessment of the prejudicial impact of defense counsel's opening statement. Pp. 503-514.

2. The record supports the conclusion that the trial judge exercised "sound discretion" in declaring a mistrial, it appearing that he acted responsibly and deliberately and accorded careful consideration to respondent's interest in having the trial concluded in a single proceeding, and therefore the mistrial order is supported by the "high degree" of necessity required in a case of this kind. Pp. 514-516.

3. Since the record provides sufficient justification for the trial judge's mistrial ruling, that ruling is not subject to collateral attack in a federal court simply because the judge failed to make an explicit finding of "manifest necessity" for a mistrial that would avoid a valid double jeopardy plea or to articulate on the record all the factors that informed the deliberate exercise of his discretion. Pp. 516-517.

546 F.2d 829, reversed.

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STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 517. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 519.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

An Arizona trial judge granted the prosecutor's motion for a mistrial predicated on improper and prejudicial comment during defense counsel's opening statement. In a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding, a Federal District Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause protected the defendant from another trial. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.1 The questions presented are whether the record reflects the kind of "necessity" for the mistrial ruling that will avoid a valid plea of double jeopardy, and if so, whether the plea must nevertheless be allowed because the Arizona trial judge did not fully explain the reasons for his mistrial ruling.


In 1971, respondent was found guilty of murdering a hotel night clerk. In 1973, the Superior Court of Pima County, Ariz., ordered a new trial because the prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the new trial order in an unpublished opinion.

Respondent's second trial began in January, 1975. During the voir dire examination of prospective jurors, the prosecutor made reference to the fact that some of the witnesses whose testimony the jurors would hear had testified in proceedings

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four years earlier.2 Defense counsel told the prospective jurors "that there was evidence hidden from [respondent] at the last trial." In his opening statement, he made this point more forcefully:

You will hear testimony that, notwithstanding the fact that we had a trial in May of 1971 in this matter, that the prosecutor hid those statements and didn't give those to the lawyer for George saying the man was Spanish speaking, didn't give those statements at all, hid them.

You will hear that that evidence was suppressed and hidden by the prosecutor in that case. You will hear that that evidence was purposely withheld. You will hear that, because of the misconduct of the County Attorney at that time and because he withheld evidence, that the Supreme Court of Arizona granted a new trial in this case.

App. 18181, 184.

After opening statements were completed, the prosecutor moved for a mistrial. In colloquy during argument of the motion, the trial judge expressed the opinion that evidence concerning the reasons for the new trial, and specifically the ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court, was irrelevant to the issue of guilt or innocence, and therefore inadmissible. Defense counsel asked for an opportunity "to find some law" that would support his belief that the Supreme Court opinion would be admissible.3 After further argument, the judge stated that

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he would withhold ruling on the admissibility of the evidence and denied the motion for mistrial. Two witnesses then testified.

The following morning, the prosecutor renewed his mistrial motion. Fortified by an evening's research, he argued that there was no theory on which the basis for the new trial ruling could be brought to the attention of the jury, that the prejudice to the jury could not be repaired by any cautionary instructions, and that a mistrial was [98 S.Ct. 828] a "manifest necessity." Defense counsel stated that he still was not prepared with authority supporting his belief that the Supreme Court opinion was admissible.4 He argued that his comment was invited by the prosecutor's reference to the witnesses' earlier testimony

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and that any prejudice could be avoided by curative instructions. During the extended argument, the trial judge expressed his concern about the possibility that an erroneous mistrial ruling would preclude another trial.5

Ultimately the trial judge granted the motion, stating that his ruling was based upon defense counsel's remarks in his opening statement concerning the Arizona Supreme Court opinion. The trial judge did not expressly find that there was "manifest necessity" for a mistrial; nor did he expressly state that he had considered alternative solutions and concluded that none would be adequate. The Arizona Supreme Court refused to review the mistrial ruling.6

Respondent then filed a [98 S.Ct. 825] petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, alleging that another trial would violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. After reviewing the transcript of the state proceeding, and hearing the arguments of counsel, the Federal District Judge noted that the Arizona trial judge had not canvassed on the record the possibility of alternatives to a mistrial and expressed the view that before granting a mistrial motion the judge was required "to find that manifest necessity exists for the granting of it."7 Because the record contained no such finding, and because the federal judge was not prepared to

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make such a finding himself, he granted the writ.8 He agreed with the State, however, that defense counsel's opening statement had been improper.

The Ninth Circuit also characterized the opening statement as improper, but affirmed because, absent a finding of manifest necessity or an explicit consideration of alternatives,9 the court was unwilling to infer that the jury was prevented from arriving at a fair and impartial verdict.10 In a concurring opinion, two judges [98 S.Ct. 829] noted that, while the question of manifest necessity had been argued, most of the argument on the mistrial motion had concerned the question whether the opening statement was improper. They concluded that,

absent findings that manifest necessity existed, it . . . [was] quite possible that the grant of mistrial was based on the fact that the impropriety of counsel's conduct had been established

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without reaching the question whether there could, nevertheless, be a fair trial.

546 F.2d at 833.

We are persuaded that the Court of Appeals applied an inappropriate standard of review to mistrial rulings of this kind, and attached undue significance to the form of the ruling. We therefore reverse.


A State may not put a defendant in jeopardy twice for the same offense. Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784. The constitutional protection against double jeopardy unequivocally prohibits a second trial following an acquittal. The public interest in the finality of criminal judgments is so strong that an acquitted defendant may not be retried even though "the acquittal was based upon an egregiously erroneous foundation." See Fong Foo v. United States, 369 U.S. 141, 143. If the innocence of the accused has been confirmed by a final judgment, the Constitution conclusively presumes that a second trial would be unfair.

Because jeopardy attaches before the judgment becomes final, the constitutional protection also embraces the defendant's "valued right to have his trial completed by a particular...

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