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Opinions – Maryland Court of Appeals: 10/31/11

Criminal Law

Double jeopardy

BOTTOM LINE: Manifest necessity did not exist where the trial judge, on the basis of information known by the judge prior to trial, declared a mistrial at the conclusion of all of the evidence in a bench trial, and, therefore retrial of defendant was barred by the Double Jeopardy clause.

CASE: Mansfield v. State, No. 53 Sept. Term, 2010 (filed Sept. 30, 2011) (Judges BELL, Harrell, Greene, Adkins & Barbera) (Judges Battaglia & Murphy dissenting). RecordFax No. 11-0930-20, 28 pages.
FACTS: Christopher Mansfield was tried in a bench trial on five counts, charging statutory sex related offenses, arising out of his alleged sexual assault of a minor years earlier.

Before trial, Mansfield had been convicted in two separate, unrelated cases of sexual offenses involving young women who were minors. Those judgments of conviction were being appealed at the time. The trial judge was aware of these convictions.

Prior to trial, it was clear that the complaining witness had not reported the sexual offenses she accused Mansfield of committing within a reasonable time of their commission. The State’s case consisted of the complaining witness, her mother, a former friend to whom it was alleged the complaining witness related the sexual offense during the summer in which it occurred and three other witnesses.

When Mansfield took the witness stand, he denied ever having sexual contact with the complaining witness. At the close of the evidence, the trial judge, over Mansfield’s objection, sua sponte declared a mistrial because she could not disregard her knowledge of Manfield’s prior convictions.

Mansfield moved to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. The motion’s judge denied the motion. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

Mansfield appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed.

LAW: Providing that no person “shall…be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb,” “[t]he Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy prohibits both successive prosecutions for the same offense as well as multiple punishment for the offense.” Dixon v. State, 364 Md. 209, 236 (2001).

A prosecution commences when jeopardy attaches. See Blondes v. State, 273 Md. 435, 444 (1975). Jeopardy, generally, attaches at a bench trial “when the judge begins to hear or receive evidence.” See In re Kevin, 402 Md. 624, 636 (2008).

The Double Jeopardy clause will not bar a new trial when a mistrial was declared out of “manifest necessity.” United States v. Jorn, 400 U.S. 470, 480–481 (1971).

In United States v. Perez, 22 U.S. 579, 580 (1824), the Supreme Court enunciated the rule still followed today: “We think…the law has invested Courts of justice with the authority to discharge a jury from giving any verdict, whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity for the act, or the ends of public justice would otherwise be defeated.”

In Cornish v. State, 272 Md. 312 (1974), the Court of Appeals applied the test announced in Perez. In Cornish, the defendant was charged with murder and related offenses. Subsequent to requesting a jury trial and informing the trial court of his intent to file a motion to suppress if the State attempted to introduce his inculpatory statement, the defendant elected a bench trial. Id. at 314.

The prosecutor called one witness, a police officer. Id. He then addressed the court: “Now, Your Honor, inasmuch as it was anticipated that this case was going to be a guilty plea [on a] statement of facts, that is the only witness the State has available.” Id. This indicated his understanding that the defendant had agreed either to plead guilty or “allow the State to present the remainder of its case on an agreed statement of facts.” Disagreeing with the State’s recollection, defense counsel rejected the trial judge’s suggestion that the case be continued, and, although willing to stipulate to the testimony of other police officers, objected to the use of his statement because of the discovery violation. Id.

The trial judge declared a mistrial. The petitioner moved to dismiss the case on the ground of double jeopardy, which was denied. Id. at 316.

The Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment. After reviewing the circumstances in which retrial, after mistrial, has been held to be permitted, see Cornish, 272 Md. at 318–19, and those in which retrial has been prohibited, id. at 319–320, the Court applied the Perez standard. It held that, under the circumstances there presented, there was manifest necessity for the declaration of a mistrial. Cornish, 272 Md. at 320.

The Court concluded that it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial judge to declare a mistrial when the trial judge was under the impression that a guilty plea was to be entered. Id. at 322. In so doing, it accepted the trial judge’s statement that “this reference to the guilty plea was implanted in my mind” and that it was “a prejudicial remark which might have been very difficult for me to overcome in the ultimate judgment of this case.” Id. at 321.

While it is in the sound discretion of the trial judge to declare a mistrial, he or she may do so only if a “high degree” of necessity demands that he or she do so. State v. Crutchfield, 318 Md. 200, 208 (1989). Furthermore, retrial is barred when there are “reasonable alternatives to a mistrial” that are “feasible and could cure the problem.” Cornish, 272 Md. at 320. See also United States v. Sartori, 730 F.2d 973, 975–976 (4th Cir .1984).

Mansfield was placed in jeopardy once he was put to trial and the trial judge began to hear evidence. See In re Kevin, 402 at 636. Prior to jeopardy attaching, the trial judge was aware that Mansfield had twice been convicted of committing sexual offenses against minors.

Moreover, before jeopardy attached, the State informed the court that the complaining witness would testify that Mansfield sexually assaulted her in the summer of 2005 and that she reported the assault some three years later. The trial judge also knew who the other State’s witnesses would be and, therefore, that there was not going to be forensic evidence. Finally, the trial judge knew, prior to jeopardy attaching, that Mansfield was the only defense witness expected to testify and that his testimony would be that the alleged offenses “did not happen.”

This pre-jeopardy knowledge possessed by the trial judge, bearing as it did on the credibility of both the complaining witness and Mansfield, had direct significance to the ultimate issue of Mansfield’s guilt.

Under these circumstances, when it is the court that is the trier of facts, and the court’s impartiality, whether due to a personal bias or prejudice towards a criminal defendant or an inability to resolve disputed factual allegations, is impaired, manifest necessity does not exist when the reasonable alternative of recusal existed prior to jeopardy attaching.

Consequently, retrial of Mansfield was barred by the Double Jeopardy clause.

DISSENT: According to the dissent, because Mansfield, prior to jeopardy attaching, did not move for the trial court’s recusal, Mansfield voluntarily ran the risk that the trial court would find it necessary to declare a mistrial.

PRACTICE TIPS: “The ‘opening the door’ doctrine is really a rule of expanded relevancy and authorizes admitting evidence which otherwise would have been irrelevant in order to respond to (1) admissible evidence which generates an issue, or (2) inadmissible evidence admitted by the court over objection. Generally, ‘opening the door’ is simply a contention that competent evidence which was previously irrelevant is now relevant through the opponent’s admission of other evidence on the same issue.” Clark v. State, 332 Md. 77, 84–85 (1993).