For the U.S. Justice Department, the third time wasn't the charm in the high-profile drug prosecution of Washington nightclub owner Antoine Jones. A federal judge today declared a mistrial, the latest setback for the government after a loss in the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
The trial was the third for Jones, who represented himself, and the government after an earlier mistrial in 2007 and then last year's historic Supreme Court ruling that voided Jones's life sentence. The high court concluded the warrantless use of a tracking device violated Jones' rights under the Fourth Amendment, a ruling whose scope is being assessed in courts across the country.
In the third trial, the government was prohibited from using the GPS tracking device data to try to connect Jones to a house in Maryland where the authorities, in 2005, found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cocaine and cash. Jones in recent weeks filed numerous handwritten motions that questioned court orders and government evidence.
Jurors last week told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington several times that the panel was deadlocked. (The panel, in the end, was split 6-6.)
"Judge Huvelle, after exhausting deliberations we the jury cannot come to a unanimous decision," the foreperson wrote in a note filed February 28. "As jurors we have listened repeatedly to wiretaps, reviewed every transcript and in addition we have examined pictures numerous times, and weighed the credibility of witnesses."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said it expects to retry Jones. The government declined to comment about the mistrial. Jones has remained in custody since his arrest in late 2005.
Following a mistrial in 2007, prosecutors secured a conviction on a conspiracy charge in 2008. Huvelle sentenced Jones to life in prison. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck the conviction and prison sentence, however, after the court concluded the government's warrantless use of a Global Positioning System tracking device violated Jones' rights. (The Supreme Court ruling is here.)
Prosecutors had relied on GPS data to connect Jones to the Maryland drug house. The authorities never caught Jones with any drugs, a point he stressed in his opening remarks to jurors on January 28.
"I'm fighting for my life," Jones said in his opening statement. At one point, he tore up a copy of charging documents, telling jurors "this is what we're going to do with the indictment." Jones also urged jurors to assess the credibility of government cooperators.
Jones has dealt with quite a few lawyers over the years, and the relationships haven't all been smooth.
His earlier counsel, A. Eduard Balarezo, withdrew last year after the Supreme Court victory. Balarezo, calling the attorney-client relationship in the case "irretrievably broken," said Jones refused to accept his advice—instead insisting he act as his own attorney.
Huvelle appointed Jeffrey O'Toole of Washington's O'Toole Rothwell to represent Jones in the third trial. Jones, however, proceeded on his own. (O'Toole was on hand, in court, as standby counsel. He declined to comment today about the mistrial.)
In the D.C. Circuit and in the Supreme Court, Washington attorney Stephen Leckar represented Jones. (O'Melveny & Myers partner Walter Dellinger was on the high court brief with Leckar.)
Leckar, who was not involved in the third trial, said "the U.S. attorney's office is not going to take this rejection lightly." He questioned whether continued prosecution is a wise use of government resources.
The government has 70 days to bring Jones to trial again--for the fourth time.