After nearly three years in jail waiting for trial, entertainment promoter Rashad Muhammad only got one day in court before a lawyer's mistake sent him back to lockup to wait some more.
Prosecutors in the marijuana smuggling case against Muhammad failed to share key evidence with defense attorneys until after the trial started, a misstep so grave that the judge abruptly ended the case Tuesday and made an assistant U.S. Attorney apologize to jurors for wasting their time.
U.S. District Court Judge P. Michael Duffy arranged for a swift new trial on June 13, with jury selection set for June 1. Duffy said the prosecution's action "makes this court question representations made by the government.
"That's a sorry state of affairs in the United States of America," he added, before the jury learned of the mistrial.
Muhammad ran The Invisible Men Entertainment, a Masonic lodge and a colorectal cancer foundation, all from an office on Air Park Road in North Charleston. Prosecutors contend that investigators captured surveillance of a drug shipment arriving at that office in August 2008 and then Muhammad driving away in a rented minivan later found abandoned and loaded with about 275 pounds of pot.
Muhammad's attorney argued that his client was in the Pennsylvania Poconos the very next day and speaking at a Masonic convention.
Defense attorneys representing Muhammad and two other men named in the case told Duffy on Tuesday morning that prosecutors turned over important evidence after 7 p.m. the night before. Specifically, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Modica gave them a waiver signed by one of the other men giving up his right to remain silent, plus that man's statement that Muhammad was not at his business the night of a search.
"Why do I have to put up with this at this point in this trial?" Duffy said. "I find that truly unacceptable."
He called in the jurors, explained that "serious legal issues" had arisen and excused them until 1 p.m.
Muhammad faces 25 years to life in prison on five counts related to the alleged drug trafficking and gun charges. Two brothers, Gary and Damon Milford, stood trial with him, each charged with two counts connected to the alleged drug smuggling.
In addition to declaring a mistrial, Duffy also separated their case from Muhammad' son Tuesday.
Muhammad's lawyer, Russell Mace, asked that Duffy dismiss the charges against his client, saying prosecutors wanted more time on the case and "goaded" defense attorneys into a mistrial. He also noted that Modica compared justice sought in the case of Muhammad, who is Muslim, to the death of extreme Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Pam Polzin, who represents Damon Milford, suggested misconduct. "We believe the government's conduct regarding discovery has been so abusive," she said. "It was so careless that it rises to the level of recklessness."
Duffy decided that Modica's actions constituted neither misconduct nor intentional goading. "It was just ineptitude by the government," the judge said. "It makes it no less unacceptable."
When the jury returned to the courtroom, Duffy dismissed them and thanked them for their time, only after Modica apologized for wasting it.
"It is because of the U.S. government, more specifically me, failing to turn over some documents to the defense that they deserved to have that caused the mistrial," he said. "You all worked very hard to get to this point, and we have taken you away from your personal lives, and for that I am very sorry."