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PETRUCELLI v. COOMBE

September 7, 1983

JOHN PETRUCELLI, Petitioner,
v.
PHILLIP COOMBE, JR., Superintendent, Respondent.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CURTIN

Although on August 3, 1982, this court conditionally granted Petrucelli's request for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the order permitted a stay of the entry of judgment upon request by the respondent to offer evidence on the prosecutor's motive for his conduct at the petitioner's original criminal trial. Petrucelli v. Smith, 544 F. Supp. 627 (W.D.N.Y. 1982). Respondent made such request, and a hearing was held October 5, 1982, to develop the record on this point.

Additionally, respondent has moved this court to reconsider the August, 1982, decision on grounds of exhaustion and harmless error.

 The procedural and factual history of this case has been outlined in Petrucelli, supra, which is now incorporated by reference. However, a brief summary of the October hearing testimony must precede discussion of the applicable law.

 I.

 Prosecutorial Misconduct

 The prosecutor in the original trial, Irwin Goldsmith, testified; so also did the prosecutor in Petrucelli's subsequent trial, Helen Johnson. The only other testimony was given by Joseph Klempner, Petrucelli's defense attorney in the original trial.

 Goldsmith had been with the Bronx County District Attorney's Office from 1946 until 1975, when he retired. For his last 12 or 14 years of employment there, he had been Chief of the Homicide Bureau. Goldsmith estimated that of the hundreds of criminal cases that he prosecuted, about 90 percent of those criminal defendants were convicted. Furthermore, none of his cases ever resulted in a mistrial.

 During the course of the hearing, Goldsmith gave understandable explanations for each of the trial instances identified by the petitioner as objectionable behavior. Even if the Appellate Division and this court find that those comments amounted to prosecutorial misconduct, the Supreme Court has explicitly cautioned that the double jeopardy bar will not be invoked unless that conduct is both intentional and in bad faith. Oregon v. Kennedy, 456 U.S. 667, 102 S. Ct. 2083, 2091, 72 L. Ed. 2d 416 (1982); United States v. Singleterry, 683 F.2d 122 (5th Cir. 1982). The Kennedy court noted further that the double jeopardy rule under these circumstances was to prevent a prosecutor from improperly seeking a more favorable opportunity to convict. Kennedy, supra at 2090 n.8, 2091.

 The court cannot find, after an examination of the record, including the testimony at the hearing, bad faith on the part of the prosecutor. It does not appear that he intentiionally attempted to improve his chances for a conviction at a subsequent trial by causing a mistrial. The facts do not warrant a double jeopardy bar of Petrucelli's second trial.

 It must be added that the Appellate Division, First Department, avoided any finding of overt intention on the part of the prosecutor to provoke a motion by the defense for a mistrial. Rather, the court addressed Mr. Goldsmith's lack of "self-discipline." People v. Petrucelli, 44 A.D.2d 58, 59, 353 N.Y.S.2d 194 (1st Dept. 1974).

 It is true, as previously stated in this court's Petrucelli, supra, opinion, at 633, that "the applicability of the prosecutorial misconduct-based double jeopardy doctrine should not be made to hinge on the outcome of a defendant's mistrial motions." It is immaterial whether the mistrial motion was granted or denied; rather, the importance for purposes of federal court application of the double jeopardy bar is whether the prosecution has attempted to improve his chances of obtaining a conviction by intentionally contriving a mistrial.

 Although this court specifically found that "the prosecutor deliberately provoked Petrucelli into requesting a mistrial," id. at 638, that conclusion was founded upon an incomplete record. For example, the fact that Albert Rossi "provided the sole evidence directly connecting Petrucelli to Gernie's murder" at the second trial but never testified at the first trial strongly persuaded this court that the prosecution had sought a second opportunity to introduce that evidence. In fact, Helen Johnson testified at the hearing that Rossi was unknown to the District Attorney's Office until 1974, after the completion of the first trial. Finally, this court's finding was "contingent upon the outcome of the evidentiary hearing. . . ." Id. at 645.

 In sum, the record does not support a finding that the second trial violated Petrucelli's ...


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