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U.S. v. DUFFY

February 20, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
V.
QASIM DUFFY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

The circumstances underlying both indictments arose out of an incident that occurred on September 8, 1997, when an individual entered the basement of 141 Hull Street in Brooklyn, New York and attempted to commit a robbery. During the course of the attempted robbery, the assailant shot two victims, killing one.

The new indictment superceded a complaint that was issued the day after Duffy's acquittal. See Complaint (Jan. 24, 2002); see also Fed.R.Crim.P. 5. The complaint, setting forth the same ammunition charge contained in the superceding indictment, stated that the charge arose out of the same robbery and shooting that gave rise to the original charges, and that the ammunition Duffy is charged with possessing are the shell casings that were recovered at the scene of the attempted robbery. See id. ("On September 8, 1997, in the basement of 141 Hull Street in Brooklyn, Bilberto Lopez was shot to death . . . Crime scene detectives . . . did . . . recover . . . 9-millimeter shell casings.").*fn2

For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that the Government is collaterally estopped from reprosecuting Duffy under the new indictment.

I

In Ashe v. Swenson, the Supreme Court held that the concept of double jeopardy incorporates the doctrine of collateral estoppel. 397 U.S. 436, 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970); see also United States v. Chestaro, 197 F.3d 600, 608-09 (2d Cir. 1999) (recognizing the "collateral estoppel component to the Double Jeopardy Clause" as distinct from traditional double jeopardy analysis) (quoting United States v. Medina, 709 F.2d 155, 156 (2d Cir. 1983)).*fn3 Collateral estoppel precludes the Government from relitigating in a second prosecution an issue that "was necessarily resolved in [the defendant's] favor in the first verdict." Medina, 709 F.2d at 156. "The burden is on the defendant to demonstrate that the issue whose relitigation he seeks to foreclose was actually decided in the first proceeding." Schiro v. Farley, 510 U.S. 222, 233, 114 S.Ct. 783, 127 L.Ed.2d 47 (1994) (quotation marks omitted).

The Supreme Court has instructed that "the rule of collateral estoppel in criminal cases is not to be applied with the hypertechnical and archaic approach of a 19th century pleading book, but with realism and rationality." Ashe, 397 U.S. at 444, 90 S.Ct. 1189; see also United States v. Citron, 853 F.2d 1055, 1058 (2d Cir. 1988) ("[T]he court should avoid . . . straining to postulate hypertechnical and unrealistic grounds on which the jury could conceivably have rested its conclusions." (quotation marks omitted)). Where the initial acquittal was based upon a general verdict "a court must `examine the record of the prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration.'" United States v. McGowan, 58 F.3d 8, 12 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Ashe, 397 U.S. at 444, 90 S.Ct. 1189); see United States v. Mespoulede, 597 F.2d 329, 333 (2d Cir. 1979). The Second Circuit has "noted that `[s]ince it is usually impossible to determine with any precision upon what basis the jury reached a verdict in a criminal case, it is a rare situation in which the collateral estoppel defense will be available to a defendant.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Tramunti, 500 F.2d 1334, 1346 (2d Cir. 1974)). The present case is one of those rare situations.

II

Duffy claims that the jury in his first prosecution necessarily determined that there was reasonable doubt as to whether he was the assailant who fired the gun in the basement of 141 Hull Street on September 8, 1997; therefore, the Government is collaterally estopped from rearguing this issue. Duffy further contends that if the Government is barred from arguing that he was the shooter, the Government cannot link him to the ammunition found at the scene of the attempted robbery. The Government makes two arguments in response: (1) that the jury did not necessarily determine there was reasonable doubt that Duffy was the assailant; and (2) that, even if the Government is barred from arguing that Duffy was the assailant, the jury in the second trial could, nevertheless, find him guilty on the ammunition charge. The Court has examined the "record of the prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter" to assess the merits of each of these contentions. McGowan, 58 F.3d at 12 (quoting Ashe, 397 U.S. at 444, 90 S.Ct. 1189).

The only defense advanced by Duffy at the trial was mistaken identity. In his opening statement, counsel for the defendant explained:

There really is only one real question in the case . . . To put it a different way or more specifically, the case begins and ends with a young man named Martin Nunez, who is the only eyewitness to this event. Actually, there is another witness, the eyewitness who cannot make an identification.

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