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United States v. Cezaire

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
LYNROLTE CEZAIRE, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. George A. O'Toole, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

          James M. Falvey for appellant.

          Robert E. Richardson, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Thompson, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          BARRON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Lynrolte Cezaire challenges her 2017 convictions, after trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, for disclosure of social security numbers, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(8), and aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. She was sentenced to one day of imprisonment for the first conviction and to twenty-four months of imprisonment for the second. Cezaire, who is Haitian American, raises only one issue on appeal: whether the District Court abused its discretion by refusing her "request for generalized and public race-based voir dire."

         In arguing that the District Court abused its discretion, Cezaire relies on Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182 (1981). There, the Supreme Court of the United States held that, under the federal Constitution, a trial judge in a criminal case must ask prospective jurors, at least as a group, about their potential racial biases during voir dire when "racial issues [are] 'inextricably bound up with the conduct of the trial, '" such as when a defendant asserts that he was framed because of his race. Id. at 189. The Court also held pursuant to its supervisory powers over the federal judiciary that "federal trial courts must [voir dire prospective jurors, at least as a group, regarding racial bias] when requested by a defendant accused of a violent crime and where the defendant and the victim are members of different racial or ethnic groups, " id. at 192, but that, otherwise, a federal district court's "[f]ailure to honor [a defendant's] request . . . will be reversible error only where the circumstances of the case indicate that there is a reasonable possibility that racial or ethnic prejudice might have influenced the jury, " id. at 191.

         Cezaire contends that, under Rosales-Lopez, her convictions cannot stand. She asserts that she requested that the District Court ask the prospective jurors as a group a question during voir dire about whether any of them harbored racial bias, the District Court denied that request, and there was a "reasonable possibility" that racial bias might have affected the jury.[1] Id. To support that last contention, Cezaire notes that her "Haitian background came up throughout the trial, " as both Cezaire and the government's main witness, Emeline Lubin, offered testimony regarding their shared Haitian heritage and the Haitian practice of establishing "sols" with family members in Haiti.

         According to Cezaire, a "sol" is a "Haitian term that refers to 'a short-term money saving method among a group of people.'" Cezaire's testimony about "sols" was key, she claims, because it helped to show that potentially incriminating text messages between Cezaire and Lubin were actually about money she needed to withdraw from a "sol" she shared with an associate of Lubin's brother.

         To assess the merits of Cezaire's challenge, we begin by reviewing the following colloquy between Cezaire's counsel and the District Court that occurred during voir dire:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Okay. I –- I didn't ask for this, but I wonder if the Court would consider giving a race question to the jury. My client's Haitian American. I note that the cooperating witness is also Haitian American, but there obviously are going to be witnesses who are not. I'm wondering if the Court would give that type of instruction. THE COURT: I don't see anything in the case that would make it necessary. It's not that kind -– you know, it's not a -– DEFENSE COUNSEL: It is not that kind of case, but I just given the current climate in the –-THE COURT: I think –-DEFENSE COUNSEL: -- country, I always think it's prudent to err on the side of caution to the extent that any jurors might give –-THE COURT: I think that the issue will be –- anyone who would answer the question adversely to their public image would answer one of my other questions that way, I think. DEFENSE COUNSEL: Okay. THE COURT: So let's see. DEFENSE COUNSEL: Thank you.

         Cezaire contends that this colloquy shows that she requested that a question concerning racial bias be asked of the group of prospective jurors during voir dire and that the District Court denied her request, such that her challenge is preserved and our review is for abuse of discretion. But, we do not agree.

         The District Court did not respond to the initial suggestion by Cezaire's counsel to ask a question about racial bias during voir dire by simply refusing to grant it. The District Court instead stated that, although it did not see anything about the case that indicated a need to ask such a question, it would be willing to consider that request after it had an opportunity to question the prospective jurors about their biases in general. As the District Court put it, "anyone who would answer the [race] question adversely to their public image would answer one of my other questions that way, I think."

         But, at that point, Cezaire's counsel did not then object to the proposed course of action. Instead, she simply said, "[o]kay, " to which the District Court then added, "let's see." And Cezaire's counsel then brought the ...


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