Criminal Law Blog

New Evidence or Argument Not Necessary for Motion for Reconsideration

Bernal v. United States (decided June 29, 2017)

Players: Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge McLeese, and Senior Judge Ferren. Opinion by Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby. Trial Judge: Michael Ryan. PDS for Mr. Bernal.

Facts: Prior to trial, appellant moved to suppress a confession and buccal swab obtained while in police custody. Following officer testimony about the manner in which the confession and swab were obtained, the government requested a thirty-day continuance to obtain a second buccal swab and decide whether to call an expert to respond to the expert that appellant had disclosed three days prior. The trial court denied the government’s motion for continuance.

The government then filed a motion to reconsider the continuance ruling based on the same grounds as before. They also renewed their request for a second swab. The court granted a seven-day continuance and authorized the second swab, but stated the continuance was based solely on the government's need for time to evaluate the defendant's expert notice.

During the continuance, the government procured a second buccal swab and matched it to a sample of suspect DNA. Appellant was convicted and appealed the court’s grant of a motion for reconsideration.

Issue: Does the Superior Court have the authority to grant a reconsideration for a thirty-day continuance when the government did not offer any new information to justify reconsideration?

Holding: Yes. Trial courts have great deference over issues pertaining to case management, and can reconsider previously decided issues as long as the decision is “consonant with justice” and interlocutory. Trial courts may rely on their inherent powers to reconsider an interlocutory ruling, as long as there are no superseding procedural rules or constitutional restraints. Here, since there were no such constraints on reconsideration, the trial court was free to grant reconsideration that was “consonant with justice.” Reconsideration was “consonant with justice” because the decision to grant a seven-day continuance for late expert notice showed “a thoughtful balancing of competing considerations.”

Of Note:
The Court rejected appellant's argument that a motion for reconsideration can only be granted when the party seeking reconsideration presents: 1) newly discovered evidence, 2) an intervening change in the law, or 3) the original decision was based on a manifest error of law or was clearly unjust.

In footnote 11, the Court recognized that Super. Ct. Crim. R. 48(a)(2) requires the trial court’s approval before the government can dismiss charges without prejudice. And, that it would be erroneous for the trial court not to recognize it had the discretion to deny the government’s dismissal of an indictment.

Read the full opinion here.