The Fourth Circuit recently issued a decision prohibiting retrial of a defendant charged with murder following a mistrial. The government obtained the mistrial over the defendant’s objection when a key witness could not be located during the trial. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit found that no manifest necessity justified the mistrial and that double jeopardy prohibited another attempt by the government to convict the defendant. I previously wrote about mistrials and double jeopardy here, and I wanted to flag this case for readers for its treatment of missing witnesses in the mistrial context. The case is Seay v. Cannon, ___ F.3d ___, 2019 WL 2552953 (4th Cir., June 21, 2019).
James Courtney was charged with first degree murder in 2009 for shooting and killing James Deberry outside Deberry’s Raleigh apartment. Courtney was tried on those charges in December 2010. The jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Four months later, the State dismissed the murder charges, stating on the dismissal form that it had elected not to retry the case. Four years later, the State changed its mind. After gathering new evidence, it sought and received a 2015 indictment once again charging Courtney with first degree murder for killing Deberry. Courtney moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the State’s dismissal of the initial murder charges following the mistrial precluded the State from recharging him. Was he right?
In State v. Schalow (Dec. 20, 2016), the trial court’s error in declaring a mistrial led to a successful claim of double jeopardy by the defendant and allowed him to avoid further prosecution for attempted murder. Schalow sheds light on the relatively obscure (at least to me) law of mistrials and double jeopardy.