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United States v. Grasso

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, SECOND CIRCUIT


April 23, 1979

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLANT,
v.
SYLVIO J. GRASSO, APPELLEE

Before Smith, Oakes and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Oakes

Opinion AND ORDER

Judgment in this case, 552 F.2d 46, Rehearing en banc denied, 568 F.2d 899 (2d Cir. 1977), was vacated by the United States Supreme Court, 438 U.S. 901, 98 S. Ct. 3117, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1144 (1978), and the case remanded in the light of United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 98 S. Ct. 2187, 57 L. Ed. 2d 65 (1978), and Arizona v. Washington, 434 U.S. 497, 98 S. Ct. 824, 54 L. Ed. 2d 717 (1978). Our panel majority decision upheld Judge Zampano's decision that the Double Jeopardy Clause barred a retrial because there was no "manifest necessity" for the trial judge to declare a mistrial sua sponte. The mistrial was declared when a prosecution witness recanted his testimony after nine trial days had elapsed, fifty-three witnesses had testified, and 300 documents had been introduced, with only one rebuttal witness remaining to be called.*fn1 We also held that findings should have been made as to available alternatives to mistrial, a holding similar to that of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Arizona v. Washington, 546 F.2d 829 (1977). When that case was reversed, our holding as to findings was plainly overruled by the Supreme Court, 434 U.S. at 516-17, 98 S. Ct. at 836 ("(n)o matter how desirable such procedural assistance may be, it is not constitutionally mandated . . . (where) (t)he basis for the trial judge's mistrial order is adequately disclosed by the record"). The Court moreover apparently deemphasized the importance of the trial judge's examining alternatives to a mistrial, for which such findings would have been helpful. Id. We acknowledge our errors in these respects and are of course bound not to repeat them.*fn2

United States v. Scott, supra, seems only indirectly relevant. That case, overruling United States v. Jenkins, 420 U.S. 358, 95 S. Ct. 1006, 43 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1975), held that where a defendant himself seeks and obtains a midtrial dismissal on grounds "unrelated to factual guilt or innocence," Double Jeopardy does not bar a Government appeal. In our case, Grasso did seek dismissal on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct, a ground, like the prejudicial preindictment delay in Scott, not related to "factual guilt or innocence." But Grasso's motion to dismiss was denied. Instead, the trial judge declared a mistrial.*fn3 Thus, the Supreme Court's reference to Scott in its remand order must have been intended to focus our attention on the general double jeopardy principles expounded there. We shall refer to those principles in our discussion of Arizona v. Washington, infra.

Arizona v. Washington, however, is obviously directly relevant to this case. There the Court held that there was "manifest necessity" for the declaration of a mistrial where defense counsel had improperly opened to the jury by calling attention to allegedly improper prior prosecutorial misconduct (suppression of evidence) which had caused the state supreme court to remand for the new trial then about to take place. In addition to holding that neither a "manifest necessity" finding nor an explanation of the mistrial ruling was constitutionally required, the Supreme Court emphasized the "special respect" that must be accorded a trial judge's determination of possible jury bias. 434 U.S. at 510, 98 S. Ct. 824. While conceding that, in Arizona, "(i)n a strict, literal sense, the mistrial was not "necessary,' " Id. at 511, 98 S. Ct. at 833, the Court went on to hold:

Nevertheless, the overriding interest in the evenhanded administration of justice requires that we accord the highest degree of respect to the trial judge's evaluation of the likelihood that the impartiality of one or more jurors may have been affected by the improper comment.

Id.*fn4 Thus, "necessity" is not to be taken literally; a trial judge's evaluation, at least as to events occurring before the jury, is to be accorded the highest deference.*fn5

This, however, does not end the inquiry, the Court reminds us. Id. at 514, 98 S. Ct. 824. We must satisfy ourselves that the trial court exercised "sound discretion."*fn6

We turn, then, to the specific trial problems which did trigger the mistrial declaration. Preliminarily we note that Judge Clarie, in denying the motion to dismiss, expressly found that there was no misconduct on the part of Government counsel. And in granting the motion at retrial to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds, Judge Zampano expressly found that "there was neither impropriety or misconduct on the part of defense counsel during the events and proceedings surrounding the mistrial nor was the motion to dismiss a frivolous petition."*fn7

The record*fn8 discloses that Judge Clarie declared a mistrial because he believed that allowing the veracity of Harris's testimony to become the focal point of the trial would be unfair to the defendant in several ways. First, the jury's aversion to narcotics might have prejudiced them against the defendant. Second, the sensational nature of Harris's narcotics testimony and recantation, as well as evidence of his retraction of the recantation, might have caused the jury to pay too little attention in their deliberations to the more technical tax evasion issues. Third, the defendant might have been convicted on "perjurious" testimony. Although the trial judge's judgment is certainly not immune from appellate scrutiny under Arizona, we hold that Double Jeopardy does not bar reprosecution of the defendant. After reviewing these three considerations, especially the evidence of the retraction of the recantation, and after according the trial judge's decision the "special respect" required by Arizona, we conclude that Judge Clarie could reasonably have found manifest necessity for declaring a mistrial.

His first ground, that the jury's aversion to narcotics might have prejudiced them against the defendant, was not in and of itself sufficient to justify a mistrial. The testimony about the defendant's involvement in sales of narcotics was initially admitted in the Government's case as tending to show the existence of a source for the alleged nonreported income, a proper subject of proof. See United States v. Costanzo, 581 F.2d 28 (2d Cir. 1978) (in proving tax evasion by net worth method, Government may either negate all possible sources of nontaxable income or prove a likely source of unreported income), Cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1067, 99 S. Ct. 833, 59 L. Ed. 2d 32 (1979). Recantation of such testimony could prejudice only the Government, not the defendant, since any harm to the latter would have been done when the testimony was first admitted. But evidence of a retraction of the recantation would have cut the other way.*fn9

The second ground for the trial judge's mistrial determination was that the sensational nature of Harris's testimony and recantation, together with evidence of his retraction of the recantation, might cause the jury to pay too little attention to the more technical issues of tax evasion. Once again, we would be reluctant to uphold the mistrial declaration on this ground alone. Harris's testimony formed an important part of the Government's original case, to be sure, for it was probative of the source of the unreported income for one taxable year. But although the technical issues and evidence before the jury in this case were not simple (eight days of trial, over 300 exhibits), many cases of far greater complexity are tried before juries, and most have emotional aspects. Although a recantation (with or without a retraction) may have a dramatic effect upon a jury, so may a devastating cross-examination or a strikingly contradictory prior inconsistent statement. If the danger of jury confusion of technical issues were itself so great in this case as to require a mistrial, what would be done with all the much longer and more complex trials routinely tried before juries? E. g., United States v. Bernstein, 533 F.2d 775 (2d Cir.), Cert. denied, 429 U.S. 998, 97 S. Ct. 523, 50 L. Ed. 2d 608 (1976); United States v. Taylor, 562 F.2d 1345 (2d Cir.), Cert. denied, 434 U.S. 853, 98 S. Ct. 170, 54 L. Ed. 2d 124 (1977). It should also be noted that this ground, like the previous ground, would not be remedied at a new trial unless the Government were to forego presentation of this testimony, a course it was not obliged to pursue at the time of Judge Clarie's ruling.

But the third ground given for the declaration of mistrial, that it was unfair for the defendant to face being convicted on "perjurious" testimony, is the most justifiable. He could be so convicted even if evidence of the recantation were admitted, if the jury believed the evidence as to the witness's retraction. Both kinds of evidence would plainly have been admissible to impeach (or rehabilitate) the witness's prior testimony. Judge Clarie did not give any credence to the witness; in granting the mistrial he said to the jury that "(t)he factual issues . . . have been indelibly stained with the perjury of Daniel Harris . . . ." The probability/possibility that the original testimony was perjured thus has some weight as a ground for a mistrial in light of the evidence that the recantation was retracted, evidence which the jury might have believed.

But when we evaluate the judge's exercise of discretion, Arizona requires us to view the judge's three grounds in combination to give them the "special respect" to which they are entitled. The probable perjury may have exacerbated the possible prejudice and confusion arising from the narcotics testimony. Although the recantation would have cast doubt upon the defendant's involvement with narcotics and thus would have Attenuated any prejudice the prior testimony could have caused, the recantation, when coupled with evidence of a retraction, would have drawn even greater attention to the initial testimony. Moreover, if the jury disbelieved the recantation it might have conjectured that improper pressure caused it with clear prejudice to the defendant. Although the findings on this score leave considerable room for speculation, under Arizona we cannot insist upon elucidating findings. We conclude, therefore, that Judge Clarie exercised his discretion soundly.*fn10

Some other factors mentioned in Arizona militate against our conclusion that Double Jeopardy does not bar reprosecution here, but not so seriously as to undermine it. The Court noted that the defendant in Arizona suffered no specific prejudice*fn11 and that the trial judge did not act precipitously.*fn12 Here, it is true that the defendant might suffer some prejudice: as Judge Zampano found, "reprosecution would give (the Government) a solid tactical advantage, "*fn13 for it could reconstruct its case as to the 1970 tax evasion without the tainted Harris testimony or drop the 1970 count and seek convictions only for the years 1969 and 1971. But the defendant should at least be comforted by the Government's representation that it will not use that testimony, See note 9 Supra. And although the trial judge did proceed without apparently affording either counsel opportunity to state his position on the propriety of the declaration, compare Arizona, 434 U.S. at 497 n.34, 515-16, 98 S. Ct. 824, 54 L. Ed. 2d 717, he did so only after hearing two days of testimony from ten witnesses outside the presence of the jury, 413 F. Supp. at 168.

The Court in Arizona also placed some emphasis on the impropriety of defense counsel's conduct in concluding that the mistrial declaration should be accorded special deference,*fn14 while here no such impropriety was found.*fn15 Finally, we note that the mistrial in Arizona was declared only two days after the start of the trial, not, as here, at its very end, after the prosecutor had rested his case.*fn16 Insofar as Arizona permits us to weigh the burden of a particular trial upon the defendant in balancing double jeopardy interests, See 434 U.S. at 503-06, 514, 98 S. Ct. 824, Scott, supra, 437 U.S. at 92, 98 S. Ct. at 2194, the belated interruption of the proceedings here is a factor weighing slightly against the trial judge's ultimate conclusion.

"Difficult is the answer to the question" of when double jeopardy bars a retrial after a judge abuses his discretion in granting a mistrial, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation 1096 (1973). On balance, despite some doubt about whether the mistrial declaration was strictly necessary here, we conclude that the "special respect" that Arizona requires us to accord the trial judge's decision warrants upholding that decision, particularly in view of the evidence that the recantation may have been retracted. Thus we cannot adhere to our prior holding affirming the judgment of the district court.

Judgment reversed; cause remanded for a new trial. Mandate to issue forthwith.

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge, concurring specially:

I concur in the result reached by the majority on remand from the Supreme Court, namely, reversal of the judgment of the District Court for the District of Connecticut (Zampano, J.) which had held that retrial of Grasso was barred by the double jeopardy clause, and remand to the District Court with instructions that retrial of Grasso is not barred by double jeopardy.

The order of the Supreme Court of June 26, 1978, 438 U.S. 901,*fn1 which vacated our prior judgment, 552 F.2d 46, in my view virtually mandated the result we have now reached, as stated above.

The Supreme Court last Term made it very clear that among the double jeopardy issues it determined were (1) that a defendant who, "by deliberately choosing to seek termination of the proceedings against him on a basis unrelated to factual guilt or innocence of the offense of which he is accused," United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 98-99, 57 L. Ed. 2d 65, 98 S. Ct. 2187 (1978), may not avail himself of a double jeopardy claim against retrial; and (2) that the absence of an "explicit finding of "manifest necessity' " and the failure of the trial judge to explore alternatives to a mistrial do not bar retrial of the defendant on the ground of double jeopardy. Arizona v. Washington, 434 U.S. 497, 516-17, 54 L. Ed. 2d 717, 98 S. Ct. 824 (1978). The Court's order of June 26, 1978, note 1, Supra, vacating our judgment, expressly directed us to reconsider our prior decision in the light of Scott and Arizona.*fn2

The bed-rock of the majority's prior opinion was its holding that "when a trial ends in a mistrial without any findings having been made as to alternatives to mistrial, the double jeopardy clause will usually bar a retrial of the defendant." 552 F.2d at 53. The majority today correctly acknowledges that the Arizona court held that findings and exploration of alternatives are not required. It follows that the majority's prior reading of the plurality opinion in United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 485, 27 L. Ed. 2d 543, 91 S. Ct. 547 (1971), also heavily relied upon, 552 F.2d at 52, was erroneous.

Arizona also held that in the area between the extreme cases "in which a prosecutor requests a mistrial in order to buttress weaknesses in his evidence," where the strictest scrutiny is demanded in the discharge of a hung jury, and where "great deference" must be accorded to the trial judge, a declaration of a mistrial in a case like this "is entitled to special respect." The Court illuminated what this meant by saying that the test is whether the trial judge acted "irrationally and irresponsibly." The majority today correctly concedes, as it must, that Judge Clarie did not do this.*fn3

Perhaps the chief factor in the instant case which in my view compels reversal of the District Court's double jeopardy holding in the light of Arizona is the retraction of the recantation by the government witness Harris. 552 F.2d at 55. Less than two hours after his recantation to defense counsel, Harris told Special Agents of the Intelligence Division of the Internal Revenue Service that this was a lie which had been induced by threats. If the defense had been allowed to recall Harris for further cross-examination and to introduce evidence of his recantation, the government of course would have been permitted to offer this evidence with devastating impact on the defense. Judge Clarie must have had this in mind when he said that Grasso could not "get a fair and impartial trial under the present circumstances." Everyone agreed with this conclusion. No one, including Grasso's experienced counsel, wanted the trial to proceed. In this respect the instant case is stronger for the government than was Arizona. The majority today correctly recognizes the critical impact of the evidence of the retraction of the recantation.*fn4

For the reasons stated above, as well as those expressed in my previous opinions in this case, 552 F.2d at 54 and 568 F.2d 899, I concur in the result reached by the majority, thus clearing the decks for retrial of Grasso on the federal income tax evasion charges which have never been determined by a jury.


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