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AN ACQUITTAL PROHIBITS RE-TRIAL and A MISTRIAL DOES NOT (BARRING PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT)

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Baldwin, No. 2719 EDA 2015 (April 10, 2017), holding that (1) the Commonwealth did not commit any misconduct in eliciting a witness’s testimony and (2) the Municipal Court abused its discretion in granting Baldwin’s motion for a mistrial based on this testimony. Consequently, because the Municipal Court granted the motion for mistrial and there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, it did not act as an acquittal and the Commonwealth was entitled to a new trial against Baldwin in the Municipal Court.

Baldwin was charged with possession of an instrument of crime, prohibited offensive weapons, simple assault, reckless endangerment and terroristic threats after she allegedly pointed a gun at her neighbor, Jamia Williams. Williams contacted the police, who arrested Baldwin, searched her residence and recovered a firearm.

Baldwin filed a motion in the Municipal Court to suppress the seizure of the firearm. Following an evidentiary hearing, the Municipal Court granted the motion to suppress, determining that Baldwin consented to the search of her residence following her arrest but, her consent was involuntary because the arresting officers failed to give her Miranda warnings.

Trial commenced and counsel were advised by the Court to counsel witnesses against providing testimony related to the suppressed evidence. The Commonwealth’s first witness was Williams, who testified that she was standing outside of her house on the street, while Baldwin was standing in her house across the street in front of an open window. Williams and Baldwin were arguing about the recent arrest of Williams’ baby’s father. During the argument, Baldwin disappeared from her window but returned moments later and pointed a gun at Williams. These events occurred before police arrived on the scene.

Defense counsel objected to Williams’ testimony about the gun and moved for a mistrial which was sustained by the trial court. Baldwin’s counsel then requested a “judgment of acquittal” based on “prosecutorial misconduct” which was also granted. The Municipal Court then concluded that jeopardy had attached and that the case was “done.”

NOT SO FAST ….

The Commonwealth appealed the Municipal Court’s judgment of acquittal to the Court of Common Pleas which subsequently entered an order reversing the judgment of acquittal and remanding the case to the Municipal Court for trial. In doing so, the Court of Common Pleas determined that Baldwin’s double jeopardy rights were not violated because the Municipal Court’s ruling did not constitute an acquittal nor was there any prosecutorial misconduct.

Baldwin appealed from this ruling, contending that double jeopardy prohibited her from being tried anew.

MISTRIAL OR ACQUITTAL?

Baldwin argued that double jeopardy prohibited the Commonwealth from appealing the judgment of acquittal entered by the Municipal Court. However, the Superior Court disagreed, concluding that the Municipal Court declared a mistrial and had no basis upon which to enter a judgment of acquittal.

Under the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, as well as under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal is prohibited. However, this rule is confined to cases where the prosecution’s failure to meet its burden is clear, and a second trial would merely afford the prosecution another opportunity to supply evidence that it failed to submit during the first trial.

The Superior Court noted that of import in the case at hand, a defendant is “acquitted” only when the ruling of the judge, whatever its label, actually represents a resolution in the defendant’s favor, correct or not, of some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged.

The Superior Court Court then noted that the Common Pleas correctly reasoned that the Municipal Court entered a mistrial instead of a “judgment of acquittal.” Specifically, it noted that the Municipal Court’s ruling in the instant matter did not involve a resolution of the facts because the first witness had only just begun testifying when the judgment of acquittal was declared. Essentially, the Superior Court acknowledged that while the Municipal Court’s ruling was in response to what it perceived as a violation of its suppression order, it had nothing to do with culpability or factual elements of the offense charged, and was therefore not an acquittal.

NO PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT = NO DOUBLE JEOPARDY

Baldwin also argued that even if the Municipal Court entered a mistrial rather than a judgment of acquittal, double jeopardy prohibited a new trial because the mistrial was the result of prosecutorial misconduct.

The Superior Court first explained that the law ordinarily permits retrial when a defendant successfully moves for mistrial unless the prosecution has engaged in certain forms of intentional misconduct. Additionally, the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits retrial of a defendant not only when prosecutorial misconduct is intended to provoke the defendant into moving for a mistrial, but also when the conduct of the prosecutor is intentionally undertaken to prejudice the defendant to the point of the denial of a fair trial.

The Superior Court continued its analysis by explaining that, in this case, the Court of Common Pleas held that the Municipal Court improperly granted a mistrial. Therefore, the Commonwealth was entitled to retry the case. Specifically, the Court of Common Pleas reasoned that no prosecutorial misconduct occurred. Although the Municipal Court suppressed the confiscation of the firearm and any fruits thereof, an observation of the firearm by a civilian prior to police involvement in no way implicated the search and seizure provisions of our Constitutions and testimony eliciting those facts was not prohibited.

In affirming the Court of Common Pleas, the Superior Court noted that Williams testified that Baldwin pointed a gun at her. This incident took place before the police arrived and was not the product of Baldwin’s consent to search her residence. Thus, Williams’ testimony fell outside the scope of the Municipal Court’s suppression order

Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that (1) the Commonwealth did not commit any misconduct in eliciting Williams’ testimony; (2) the Municipal Court abused its discretion in granting defense counsel’s motion for a mistrial on the basis of this testimony; and, (3) the Commonwealth is entitled to a new trial against Baldwin in the Municipal Court.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-S89043-16o%20-%2010305864116859472.pdf?cb=1