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  • Writer's pictureTommy Sangchompuphen

From Destiny to Necessity

Distinguishing between similarly sounding terms is crucial, especially when they link to broader historical and legal contexts. For instance, "manifest necessity" and "manifest destiny" might sound alike, but, of course, they are vasty different. One is a sweeping historical policy that justified the westward expansion across the American continent. The other is a legal doctrine ensuring justice within our courtrooms.


I've often found myself, especially when speaking quickly or without full concentration, inadvertently referring to "manifest necessity" as "manifest destiny." This slip can lead to significant confusion, underscoring the importance of deliberate and precise language in law.


So, let’s review manifest necessity.

The doctrine of manifest necessity allows a judge to declare a mistrial without the defendant’s consent while still adhering to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which safeguards against being tried twice for the same offense. The threshold for invoking this doctrine is high; the necessity must be clear, pressing, and substantial. In essence, there must be no fair or reasonable alternative to declaring a mistrial.


Judges may resort to this doctrine under several critical circumstances. Common scenarios include issues like a tainted or biased jury, significant procedural errors that compromise the trial's fairness, or unforeseen emergencies such as the illness of a key trial participant. Another prevalent situation is a hung jury, where jurors are unable to reach a consensus despite extensive deliberations.


Consider the case of Illinois v. Somerville (1973), where the Supreme Court upheld the trial judge's decision to declare a mistrial due to a defective indictment that failed to adequately charge an offense. The Court recognized that proceeding with a flawed legal foundation would undermine the judicial process, thus supporting the trial judge’s reliance on manifest necessity.


The doctrine was also significantly discussed in United States v. Perez (1824), one of the earliest cases addressing manifest necessity. The Supreme Court authorized a mistrial in the event of a hung jury, underlining that judges possess the authority to discharge a jury when, in their judgment, there is a manifest necessity, or when the ends of public justice would be otherwise obstructed.



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