United States v. Wright, No. 17-1972

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtSHWARTZ, Circuit Judge.
Citation913 F.3d 364
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Appellant v. Raymont WRIGHT
Decision Date17 January 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-1972

913 F.3d 364

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant
v.
Raymont WRIGHT

No. 17-1972

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Argued May 24, 2018
Opinion Filed: January 17, 2019


OPINION OF THE COURT

SHWARTZ, Circuit Judge.

913 F.3d 367

The District Court barred a retrial of and dismissed the indictment against Defendant Raymont Wright with prejudice after two juries failed to reach a verdict. The Court did so relying on its inherent authority, but without finding that any misconduct had occurred or that Wright would suffer any prejudice beyond the general anxiety and inconvenience of facing a retrial. Under such circumstances, the Court lacked the inherent authority to bar the retrial and dismiss the indictment. Therefore, we will reverse the order dismissing the indictment and remand for further proceedings.

I

In December 2014, Wright was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He pleaded not guilty and proceeded to trial in May 2016. The jury was unable to reach a verdict. A second trial was held in March 2017, and that jury was also unable to reach a verdict.

During both trials, the jury heard evidence from police officers about Wright’s actions on July 24, 2014.1 That evening, five Pittsburgh Police detectives were patrolling in two unmarked cars. Detectives Kennedy, Henson, and Baker were in the lead car, and Detectives Fallert and Goob were in the second car. Around 8:30 p.m. (when it was still daylight), Fallert and Goob saw a man, later identified as Wright, driving a car in the opposite direction well above the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. The detectives turned around to follow Wright, and Wright sped up and turned onto a loop-shaped road. The detectives pursued Wright, who fled at a high speed and ran at least four stop signs. The lead car lost sight of Wright shortly thereafter and discontinued pursuit.

Officers in the lead car then noticed skid marks suggesting that a car had intended but failed to make a left turn at the end of a street. Officers thereafter came upon Wright’s car in a parking lot below. The car had gone through a fence, over a hillside, and into the lot. The car hit two unoccupied parked cars, its tires blew out, and its windows were down.

Detectives Baker and Henson exited the vehicle at the top of the hill and remained where Wright’s car broke through the fence, and Detective Kennedy drove his car down to the parking lot’s entrance. Baker and Henson testified that they saw Wright search around the rear passenger seat of the car, back out of the vehicle with a black semi-automatic handgun in his right hand, and try to "rack the slide," which can insert or remove a round from the chamber. App. 118-19. They had their weapons drawn and told Wright to drop the gun. At first, Wright merely stepped back, but he eventually tossed the gun to the side, backed away, and lied on the ground. Pittsburgh police officer Elliott and his partner, who heard of the crash on the radio, were the first to reach Wright, and saw him lying on the ground with a handgun next to him. Henson stated that when he made it down to the parking lot, he heard Wright say to him, "Hey, big guy. You won this time or you won this round, something of that nature. He [Wright] said: You feel me? You won this time," which Henson understood to mean

913 F.3d 368

that he had just avoided a shootout or that he caught Wright after the pursuit. App. 125. Henson subsequently took custody of the gun and noticed the slide lever was bent, and when he straightened it, saw the gun was loaded with eight rounds, and one in the chamber.2

At the close of the Government’s case, Wright moved for a directed verdict, arguing that no reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Wright possessed the firearm. The District Court denied the motion because "the evidence does thus far demonstrate that a reasonable juror could most certainly find the Defendant guilty of the charge in this case." App. 171. Wright did not present a case.

The jury deliberated for approximately five hours and then reported to the Court that it was deadlocked. After polling the jurors to confirm they were deadlocked and further deliberations would not bring them closer to a unanimous verdict, the District Court declared a mistrial.

At Wright’s March 2017 retrial, the Government presented substantially the same evidence. The Government also called Detective Kennedy and Lieutenant Palermo, who were at the scene after Wright was arrested, as well as experts who testified regarding the collection of DNA and fingerprint evidence from firearms to respond to Wright’s argument at the first trial that investigators chose not to test the gun for forensic evidence in an effort to cover up that they had planted the gun at the scene.

At the close of the Government’s case, Wright again moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the Court denied because "there is sufficient evidence in the record to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wright possessed the firearm in the case," App. 650. Wright did not put on a case.

The second jury deliberated for approximately three hours and then reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked. The Court polled the jury to confirm the deadlock and then dismissed the jury.3

After the Government notified the Court that it intended to retry the case, the Court required the parties to brief "whether the Court, through an exercise of its inherent authority, should prohibit or permit a second re-trial in this case." App. 26. After considering the parties’ arguments, the District Court dismissed the indictment with prejudice, holding that it "ha[d] the inherent authority, under some circumstances, to dismiss an indictment following multiple mistrials." United States v. Wright, Crim. A. No. 14-292, 2017 WL 1179006, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2017). It reasoned that: (1) principles underlying the Double Jeopardy Clause also applied to a defendant facing a retrial after multiple mistrials, id. at *1-2 ; (2) other courts had dismissed indictments in similar circumstances, id. at *2-3 (citing United States v. Rossoff, 806 F.Supp. 200, 202-03 (C.D. Ill. 1992) ; United States v. Ingram, 412 F.Supp. 384, 385 (D.D.C. 1976) ; Sivels v. State, 741 N.E.2d 1197, 1201 (Ind. 2001) ; State v. Abbati, 99 N.J. 418, 493 A.2d 513, 517 (1985) ;

913 F.3d 369

State v. Moriwake, 65 Haw. 47, 647 P.2d 705, 712-13 (1982) ; State v. Witt, 572 S.W.2d 913, 917 (Tenn. 1978) ); (3) while Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 31(b)(3) expressly allows the Government to retry a case after a mistrial, nothing in the rule "limits a court’s inherent supervisory authority to dismiss an indictment in the interests of fundamental fairness," id. at *4 ; and (4) if the Court were to adopt the Government’s position that there are no limit to the number of times the Government can retry a defendant, it would be tantamount to a "type of jury shopping" that a court should not permit, id. at *4. The District Court also considered the factors set forth in Abbati, 493 A.2d at 521-22, and concluded that most factors supported dismissal.4

The Government appeals.

II5

We review the District Court’s order dismissing the indictment based on the Court’s inherent power for abuse of discretion.6 See United States v. Chapman, 524 F.3d 1073, 1084-88, 1090 (9th Cir. 2008) (reviewing dismissal of indictment for abuse of discretion); cf. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 55, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 115 L.Ed.2d 27 (1991) (reviewing a court’s imposition of sanctions under its inherent power for abuse of discretion); Gov’t of the Virgin Islands v. Fahie, 419 F.3d 249, 258 (3d Cir. 2005) ("A trial court’s remedy for a discovery violation under its supervisory powers is reviewed for abuse of discretion."). A district court abuses its discretion when it makes an

913 F.3d 370

errant conclusion of law, an improper application of law to fact, or a clearly erroneous finding of fact. McDowell v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 423 F.3d 233, 238 (3d Cir. 2005).

A

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 31 allows the Government to retry a case if the court declares a mistrial after a jury announces it is unable to reach a verdict. Specifically, Rule 31(b)(3) provides: "[i]f the jury cannot agree on a verdict on one or more counts, the court may declare a mistrial on those counts. The government may retry any defendant on any count on which the jury could not agree." Fed. R. Crim. P. 31(b)(3). The word "may" means that the Government has the discretion to retry a case, and nothing in the rule or its commentary provides or even suggests a limit on the number of retrials it may conduct. See United States v. Wqas Khan, No. 2:10-CR-0175 KJM, 2014 WL 1330681, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2014) ("Nothing suggests that multiple mistrials take a case out of the Rule’s operation."), appeal dismissed, No. 14-10218 (9th Cir. July 9, 2014).7 Moreover, there is nothing in the text that empowers

913 F.3d 371

a court to prohibit the Government from retrying a case.8

B

Apparently aware that Rule 31 did not provide it with a basis to preclude a retrial in these...

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12 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • August 15, 2022
    ...disposition of cases." Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31, 82 S.Ct. 1386, 8 L.Ed.2d 734 (1962) ; cf. United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 374 n.11 (3d Cir. 2019) (acknowledging that Link permits a court to dismiss a civil case to prevent delays and court congestion). This inclu......
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 18, 2019
    ..."clearly established." We leave that exercise for another day. Finally, the tort claims against the United States also fail because of the 913 F.3d 364FTCA’s discretionary function exception. The FTCA provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in certain tort actions against the United......
  • Sylla v. United States, Civil Action No. 16-8124 (ES)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • September 10, 2020
    ...rests largely on the recognition that the decision to prosecute is particularly ill-suited to judicial review." United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 373 (quoting Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 607-08 (1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). This is because the Court is not equip......
  • United States v. Henry, No. 20-1531
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 19, 2021
    ...only where the Government engages in actions that place a defendant at a disadvantage in addressing the charges." United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 372 (3d Cir. 2019). Because Henry suffered no prejudice, dismissal of the indictment under the District Court's supervisory powers would h......
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12 cases
  • R & C Oilfield Servs. LLC v. Am. Wind Transp. Grp. LLC, 21-2742
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • August 15, 2022
    ...disposition of cases." Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31, 82 S.Ct. 1386, 8 L.Ed.2d 734 (1962) ; cf. United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 374 n.11 (3d Cir. 2019) (acknowledging that Link permits a court to dismiss a civil case to prevent delays and court congestion). This inclu......
  • Bryan v. United States, No. 17-1519
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 18, 2019
    ..."clearly established." We leave that exercise for another day. Finally, the tort claims against the United States also fail because of the 913 F.3d 364FTCA’s discretionary function exception. The FTCA provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in certain tort actions against the United......
  • Sylla v. United States, Civil Action No. 16-8124 (ES)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • September 10, 2020
    ...rests largely on the recognition that the decision to prosecute is particularly ill-suited to judicial review." United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 373 (quoting Wayte v. United States, 470 U.S. 598, 607-08 (1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). This is because the Court is not equip......
  • United States v. Henry, No. 20-1531
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • January 19, 2021
    ...only where the Government engages in actions that place a defendant at a disadvantage in addressing the charges." United States v. Wright, 913 F.3d 364, 372 (3d Cir. 2019). Because Henry suffered no prejudice, dismissal of the indictment under the District Court's supervisory powers would h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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