United States v. Wright, No. 17-1972 (3d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Wright was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm. Two juries failed to reach a verdict. Both trials involved evidence that officers saw Wright driving a car well above the speed limit. When police began to follow, Wright sped up and fled, running several stop signs. After losing sight of Wright, officers noticed skid marks and found Wright’s car in a parking lot below the road. Detectives at the top of the hill saw Wright search the rear passenger compartment, back out of the vehicle with a semi-automatic handgun in his hand, and try to “rack the slide.” They drew their weapons and told Wright to drop the gun. Wright eventually tossed the gun to the side and lay on the ground. An officer picked up the gun, which was loaded with eight rounds--one in the chamber. Wright did not present a case. After the second mistrial, the court barred a retrial and dismissed the indictment with prejudice, relying on its “inherent authority,” without citing any misconduct or any prejudice to Wright beyond the general anxiety and inconvenience of facing a retrial.
The Third Circuit reversed. Under these circumstances the court lacked the inherent authority to bar the retrial and dismiss the indictment. Prejudice sufficient for the court to rely on its inherent authority to intervene in a proper prosecution occurs only where the government's actions place a defendant at a disadvantage in addressing the charges. A court’s power to preclude a prosecution is limited by the separation of powers, specifically, the executive’s law-enforcement and prosecutorial prerogative.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on January 18, 2019.