Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DUI Law - Georgia Says Prosecutors Mistake Not Double Jeopardy Bar to Retrial

In Williams v. State, --- S.E.2d ----, 2011 WL 3925582 (Ga.App.) the prosecutor erroneously stated in closing arguments that the defendant had consumed margaritas, when in fact the defendant had admitted consuming 2 1/2 beers. This error was not discovered by the defense until the jury began deliberating. The state offered to have a mistrial, but the defense simply wanted the videotape of the defendant replayed before the jury, where the defendant's true statement would appear. The judge refused to allow a reply of the video. Thereafter, the defense also moved for a mistrial, which was granted.

Prior to retrial, the defense then moved for a dismissal under double jeopardy (i.e. motion for plea in bar) claiming that the prosecutor goaded defendant into asking for a mistrial. On appeal, the law was discussed as follows:

"As an initial matter, to the extent that Williams subsequently consented to and joined in the State's motion for a mistrial, he could not later use the mistrial as the basis for a plea of double jeopardy. See Bellew v. State, 304 Ga.App. 529, 532(1), 697 S.E.2d 249 (2010). Notwithstanding Williams's contention that he was goaded into joining the mistrial motion, no basis for reversal has been shown. Where, as here, a mistrial is granted at the request of a criminal defendant, retrial is not prohibited on the basis of double jeopardy unless it is established that the State intended to goad the defendant into moving for a mistrial in order for the State to avoid a reversal due to prosecutorial or judicial error, or otherwise to obtain a more favorable chance of a guilty verdict on retrial."

Holding that the retrial was not prohibited by double jeopardy, the court wrote:

"The record in this case supports the trial court's finding that the prosecutor's mistake was unintentional and was not intended to goad Williams's counsel into moving for a mistrial. The record reflects that the prosecutor's mistake was neither blatant, deliberate, nor made in bad faith. No objection was raised at the time that the mistake was made. And when Williams's counsel later discovered and raised the issue, he likewise expressed a belief that the prosecutor's misstatement was “unintentional” and that “the prosecution didn't make th[e] error to goad [the defense] into moving to mistrial[.]” The evidence thus reflects that “[a]lthough the prosecutor was mistaken or confused as to the [evidence regarding the type of alcoholic beverage that Williams consumed], the record shows the prosecutor's mistake[ ][was] made in good faith and reveals the state's intention was not to provoke mistrial.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) State v. Oliver, 188 Ga.App. 47, 51(3), 372 S.E.2d 256 (1988). See also Mathis v. State, 276 Ga.App. 587, 588, 623 S.E.2d 674 (2005) (concluding that retrial was not barred since the prosecutor's improper comments during closing argument were not made with an objective to abort the trial and subvert double jeopardy protections).

"Moreover, “the prosecution had already built its case against the defendant and had no reason to abort the first trial by forcing a mistrial.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Oliver, supra, 188 Ga.App. at 52(3), 372 S.E.2d 256. Regardless of the type of alcoholic beverage that Williams had consumed, the evidence was sufficient to support the charged offenses. See OCGA §§ 40–6–181(b)(5), 40–6–253(b)(1), 40–6–391(a)(1) and (5). Under these circumstances, the prosecutor's mistaken argument appears to have been made in a zealous attempt to obtain a conviction, rather than to force a mistrial. See Roscoe v. State, 286 Ga. 325, 327, 687 S.E.2d 455 (2009) (affirming the denial of the defendant's plea in bar since the evidence established that the prosecutor's erroneous opening statements were made while aggressively seeking a conviction, not a mistrial); State v. Traylor, 281 Ga. 730, 734, 642 S.E.2d 700 (2007) (concluding that defendant's retrial was not barred since there was no evidence to support a finding that the prosecutor's misconduct was intended to terminate the trial, rather than enhance the likelihood of conviction).

"Since the evidence supports the trial court's findings that the prosecutor's mistake did not rise to the level of intentional prosecutorial misconduct and was not intended to subvert double jeopardy protections, we affirm the denial of Williams's plea in bar.

Editor's Note: What I found odd was the fact that the video did not go back with the jury so they could play it during deliberations - a practice commonly done in Illinois (over defense objections). I would be interested in hering what other courts do with video during jury deliberations...
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