August 16, 2021

First Circuit affirms district court’s grant of new trial for joint defendants accused of bribing Haitian officials

On August 9, 2021, the US Court of the Appeals for the First Circuit, affirmed the district court’s decision to grant a new trial to Joseph Baptiste and Roger Boncy, two executives convicted in June 2019 by a federal jury in Boston for alleged attempts to bribe Haitian officials in order to obtain permits for a proposed port development project in Haiti.  The bribe scheme was discovered when the two allegedly solicited bribes from undercover FBI agents who were posing as potential investors connected to the port construction project.  Both defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act; Baptiste was additionally found guilty of violating the Travel Act and conspiring to commit money laundering.  

On March 11, 2020, the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted a new trial for both defendants on the basis of ineffective counsel, holding that the cumulative effect of Baptiste’s counsel’s deficiencies not only prejudiced Baptiste but also Boncy by preventing Boncy’s counsel from pursuing his preferred defense strategy.  The government appealed to the First Circuit to challenge the decision to grant a new trial claiming, among other things, that the evidence presented against the defendants was too overwhelming to justify a new trial, and asserting that the district court’s application of the cumulative-error doctrine was inappropriate.  The First Circuit held that the decision to grant a new trial is matter of fundamental fairness and due process that can be used to prevent a miscarriage of justice even if there is sufficient evidence to convict.  The First Circuit also found that the application of the cumulative-error doctrine, which stands for the proposition that individual errors can collectively prejudice a party even if each deficiency is not prejudicial on its own, was appropriate based on the deficiencies described in the lower court trial record.

A new trial date for Baptiste and Boncy has not yet been set.

First Circuit Judgment | First Circuit Opinion