Trial Court Rulings Terminating Trial Before Verdict.

If, after jeopardy attaches, a trial judge grants a motion for mistrial, ordinarily the defendant is subject to retrial;114 if, after jeopardy attaches, but before a jury conviction occurs, the trial judge acquits, perhaps on the basis that the prosecution has presented insufficient evidence or that the defendant has proved a requisite defense such as insanity or entrapment, the defendant is not subject to retrial.115 This is so even where the trial court’s ruling on the sufficiency of the evidence is based on an erroneous interpretation of the statute defining the elements of the offense.116 However, it may be that the trial judge will grant a motion to dismiss that is neither a mistrial nor an acquittal, but is instead a termination of the trial in defendant’s favor based on some decision not relating to his factual guilt or innocence, such as prejudicial preindictment delay.117 The prosecution may not simply begin a new trial but must seek first to appeal and overturn the dismissal, a course that was not open to federal prosecutors until enactment of the Omnibus Crime Control Act in 1971.118 That law has resulted in tentative and uncertain rulings with respect to when such dismissals may be appealed and further proceedings directed. In the first place, it is unclear in many instances whether a judge’s ruling is a mistrial, a dismissal, or an acquittal.119 In the second place, because the Justices have such differing views about the policies underlying the Double Jeopardy Clause, determinations of which dismissals preclude appeals and further proceedings may result from shifting coalitions and from revised perspectives. Thus, the Court first fixed the line between permissible and impermissible appeals at the point at which further proceedings would have had to take place in the trial court if the dismissal were reversed. If the only thing that had to be done was to enter a judgment on a guilty verdict after reversal, appeal was constitutional and permitted under the statute;120 if further proceedings, such as continuation of the trial or some further factfinding, was necessary, appeal was not permitted.121 Now, but by a close division of the Court, the determining factor is not whether further proceedings must be had but whether the action of the trial judge, whatever its label, correct or not, resolved some or all of the factual elements of the offense charged in defendant’s favor, whether, that is, the court made some determination related to the defendant’s factual guilt or innocence.122 Such dismissals relating to guilt or innocence are functional equivalents of acquittals, whereas all other dismissals are functional equivalents of mistrials.

Footnotes

114
See “Reprosecution After Reversal on Defendant’s Appeal,” supra. back
115
See “Acquittal by the Trial Judge,” supra. back
116
See Evans v. Michigan, 568 U.S. ___, No. 11–1327, slip op. (2013). back
117
United States v. Wilson, 420 U.S. 332 (1975) (preindictment delay); United States v. Jenkins, 420 U.S. 358 (1975) (determination of law based on facts adduced at trial; ambiguous whether judge’s action was acquittal or dismissal); United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82 (1978) (preindictment delay). back
118
See United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82, 84–86 (1978); United States v. Sis-son, 399 U.S. 267, 291–96 (1970). back
119
Cf. Lee v. United States, 432 U.S. 23 (1977). back
120
United States v. Wilson, 420 U.S. 332 (1975) (after jury guilty verdict, trial judge dismissed indictment on grounds of preindictment delay; appeal permissible because upon reversal all trial judge had to do was enter judgment on the jury’s verdict). back
121
United States v. Jenkins, 420 U.S. 358 (1975) (after presentation of evidence in bench trial, judge dismissed indictment; appeal impermissible because if dismissal was reversed there would have to be further proceedings in the trial court devoted to resolving factual issues going to elements of offense charged and resulting in supplemental findings). back
122
United States v. Scott, 437 U.S. 82 (1978) (at close of evidence, court dismissed indictment for preindictment delay; ruling did not go to determination of guilt or innocence, but, like a mistrial, permitted further proceedings that would go to factual resolution of guilt or innocence). The Court thought that double jeopardy policies were resolvable by balancing the defendant’s interest in having the trial concluded in one proceeding against the government’s right to one complete opportunity to convict those who have violated the law. The defendant chose to move to terminate the proceedings and, having made a voluntary choice, is bound to the consequences, including the obligation to continue in further proceedings. Id. at 95–101. The four dissenters would have followed Jenkins, and accused the Court of having adopted too restrictive a definition of acquittal. Their view is that the rule against retrials after acquittal does not, as the Court believed, “safeguard determination of innocence; rather, it is that a retrial following a final judgment for the accused necessarily threatens intolerable interference with the constitutional policy against multiple trials.” Id. at 101, 104 (Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Stevens). They would, therefore, treat dismissals as functional equivalents of acquittals, whenever further proceedings would be required after reversals. back