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In re United States

July 30, 2010


Petition for a Writ of Mandamus to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and Petition for Rehearing as Amended. No. 01 CR 1098-1-James F. Holderman, Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Posner, Circuit Judge.



Before POSNER, ROVNER, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

On July 27, in response to the government's renewed petition for a writ of mandamus, we issued an order granting the petition and directing the district court to admit into evidence in United States v. Herrera, the criminal trial of Clacy Watson Herrera on drug charges, an exhibit labeled "Roberson Seizure 2"; to allow the government to recall Stephen Koop to testify at trial about the recovery of latent fingerprints from that exhibit; and to allow testimony regarding comparison of the latent prints with known fingerprints of the defendant. The judge had excluded the exhibit and related testimony because he suspected the government, on the most tenuous of grounds, of having tampered with the evidence, and he threatened to grant a mistrial that would bar any further prosecution of the defendant by virtue of the constitutional prohibition against placing a person in double jeopardy.

Our order further stated: "The case shall be reassigned to a district judge who is immediately available to preside, and the trial shall resume as soon as possible." (The trial had begun on July 6 and had been interrupted for several days because of the judge's rulings that gave rise to two petitions for mandamus filed by the government.) We were troubled to learn that a replacement judge was not designated until the afternoon of July 29, owing to an unaccountable delay in appointing an acting chief judge to substitute for Chief Judge Holderman (the district judge presiding in this case whom we ordered recused) in arranging for the reassignment.

In a supplemental order issued on the 28th, we noted that Fed. R. Crim. P. 25(a) provides that in a case in which "death, sickness, or other disability" prevents the trial judge from continuing to preside at a trial, the judge who replaces him must certify his familiarity with the trial record before proceeding. "The term 'other disability' in Rule 25(a) includes disability by reason of recusal." United States v. Sartori, 730 F.2d 973, 976 (4th Cir. 1984). And so our supplemental order directed the new judge, before proceeding with the trial, to certify familiarity with the record.

We said in our order of the 27th that we would issue an opinion explaining it. This is that opinion; in it we also deny the defendant's petition to rehear our order.

The petition for mandamus had been filed just one day before we issued our order (which is why we were unable, for lack of time, to issue a statement of reasons). We ruled in unavoidable haste because in apparent response to the government's petition the defendant had moved the district judge to declare a mistrial-and the judge had already stated in open court that if he granted a mistrial it would have double-jeopardy effect on the entire case even though, he said, the exhibit "relates to one count, Count No. 35, the very last count . . . . What will remain are 14 counts . . . of which multiple witnesses have testified about the defendant's involvement. And if we grant a mistrial, if a mistrial is granted, every one of those counts potentially could be dismissed from the standpoint that double jeopardy will attach to each and every one of those additional counts." And he invited the jurors to provoke a mistrial by telling them: "I certainly would understand if you are not available, you have served your term, and more than your term, as jurors"-a remark that precipitated notes from several jurors expressing concern about continuing to serve.

The judge had accused the government of lying and other misconduct and of not wanting the jury to decide the case. The second accusation is difficult to under- stand. Double jeopardy would bar a retrial if the government had procured the mistrial because of its dissatisfaction with the jury, even if the motion for a mistrial was made by the defendant, as it was. Oregon v. Kennedy, 456 U.S. 667, 673-76 (1982) (goading the defendant into moving for a mistrial); United States v. Dinitz, 424 U.S. 600, 611 (1976) (same); United States v. Warren, 593 F.3d 540, 545 (7th Cir. 2010) (same). Yet the judge told the prosecutors: "I find the government's conduct in seeking to preclude this jury from making a determination with regard to the other counts, if I determine that Government Exhibit Roberson Seizure 2 is not admissible, I find that to be an intentional, purposeful statement that you don't want a determination by the jury in this case . . . . [W]hat the government wants is to have this jury not decide this case."

To prevent double jeopardy because of a trial judge's ruling that is so patently unsound as to exceed the legitimate bounds of judicial power is a legitimate role for mandamus when other mechanisms of review are unavailable, United States v. Vinyard, 539 F.3d 589 (7th Cir. 2008); United States v. Amante, 418 F.3d 220, 222 (2d Cir. 2005); United States v. Wexler, 31 F.3d 117, 128 (3d Cir. 1994); United States v. United States District Court, 858 F.2d 534, 537 (9th Cir. 1988); see generally In re Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., 51 F.3d 1293, 1295 (7th Cir. 1995). We regret to say that the judge's ruling in this case can only be characterized thus. We note that this judge was manda-mused in In re United States, 398 F.3d 615 (7th Cir. 2005) (per curiam), when he became wrathful toward federal prosecutors in another criminal case.

The defendant responded to our order of the 27th seemingly within minutes by filing a petition for re-hearing (we accepted his amended petition for filing the next day). In it he argued that our ordering mandamus was improper because we had given neither him nor the judge a chance to respond to the petition, as required (he claims) by Fed. R. App. P. 21(b). Confusingly, this subsection of the rule refers to a response by the "respondent," and the respondent in a petition for mandamus is the judge. But Rule 21(a)(1) and the Committee Notes to the 1996 Amendments to Rule 21 make clear that "respondent" in (b)(1) refers just to parties, not to the judge. Indeed the judge may not respond to the petition unless invited or ordered to by the court of appeals, Fed. R. App. P. 21(b)(4), and not wanting to delay the resumption of the trial we had not ordered or invited him to reply.

And because there was no time for us to order and await a response from either the defendant or the judge before granting the petition, the absence of such an order did not preclude our granting the petition for mandamus. Rule 2 of the appellate rules authorizes a court of appeals on its own initiative to suspend any of those rules that are not jurisdictional if necessary "to expedite its decision or for other good cause." See Alva v. Teen Help, 469 F.3d 946, 956 n. 17 (10th Cir. 2006); Lazy Oil Co. v. Witco Corp., 166 F.3d 581, 587 (3d Cir. 1999). Good cause there was. But now, in deciding to deny the defendant's motion to rehear our order, we have treated the defendant's motions, the judge's request to file a response (which we had not received before we granted the petition for mandamus), along with the transcript of the district judge's pertinent remarks in court, as responses, pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 21(b), to the petition for mandamus.

The defendant points out that 18 U.S.C. § 3731, which governs appeals by the United States in criminal cases, does not authorize an appeal from an order excluding evidence if the order was issued after the jury is sworn. Crist v. Bretz, 437 U.S. 28, 35 (1978); United States v. Salahuddin, 509 F.3d 858, 862-63 and n. 9 (7th Cir. 2007); United States v. Centracchio, 236 F.3d 812, 813-14 (7th Cir. 2001); United States v. Brooks, 145 F.3d 446, 453 n. 2 (1st Cir. 1998). But the government has not appealed from the order; it has sought mandamus, which is typically directed against non-appealable orders, as otherwise an appeal would do. "There is no need to issue a writ of mandamus if the normal procedures for error correction would suffice." United States v. Vinyard, supra, 539 F.3d at 591. They would not in this case; were the defendant to be acquitted because of the exclusion of the fingerprint evidence, double jeopardy would bar any further prosecution of him. The judge said that the evidence related to only one count of the indictment, but that is wrong. United States v. Herrera, 366 Fed. App'x 674, 676-77 (7th Cir. 2010). The evidence is key in linking the defendant to the conspiracy charged in the other counts, and is made especially important by the long ...

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