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Judge Orders New Trial For Baptiste And Boncy Based On Ineffective Assistance Of Counsel

As highlighted in this previous post [1], in 2017 (in connection with an undercover string) the DOJ unsealed criminal charges against Joseph Baptiste (a retired U.S. Army Colonel, practicing dentist, and founder / president of a Maryland-based Haitian focused non-profit) for alleged Haitian bribery. As highlighted in this previous post [2], in 2018 the DOJ added criminal charges against Roger Boncy in connection with the same core conduct.

Unlike most individual FCPA defendants, Baptiste and Boncy put the DOJ to its burden of proof. As highlighted in this previous post [3], in June 2019, after a two-week jury trial, a federal jury in Boston found Baptiste guilty of one count of violating the Travel Act and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and Boncy guilty of one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act. Thereafter, in post-trial motions the defendants sought an acquittal or a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. (See here [4]).

Earlier today, in this decision, U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs (D. Mass.) granted Baptiste and Boncy a new trial.

As summarized by Judge Burroughs:

“Defendant Baptiste seeks a new trial on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, citing nine errors made by trial counsel [Donald] LaRoche: (1) failing to conduct an adequate investigation; (2) failing to review critical discovery; (3) failing to consult with potential experts; (4) misunderstanding the Court’s pre-trial rulings concerning prosecution’s evidence; (5) conducting self-defeating cross-examination or no cross-examination; (6) failing to object to improper lay opinion testimony; (7) failing to move for severance; (8) failing to request appropriate jury instructions; and (9) failing to present any coherent defense.

[…]

The Government opposes the motion, arguing that LaRoche’s performance was objectively reasonable and that, even if it was not, Defendant Baptiste cannot show a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different absent LaRoche’s errors.”

For a variety of specific reason, the judge concluded that “the errors, omissions, and general lack of diligence … demonstrate that LaRoche failed to provide effective assistance to Defendant Baptiste” and that LaRoche’s “overall performance did not live up to prevailing professional norms.” Judge Burroughs conclusions was “reinforced by the Court’s own observations of LaRoche’s trial performance.”

[5]

As to the second prong in the analysis, Judge Burroughs further found that LaRoche’s errors prejudiced Baptiste “to such a degree that his conduct has undermined confidence in the outcome of his trial.”

In an interesting twist, Boncy (who was tried with his co-defendant Baptiste) also sought a new trial as a result of prejudice he experienced due to LaRoche’s ineffective assistance to Baptiste (even though Boncey had separate counsel).

Judge Burroughs agreed and also ordered a new trial for Boncy because “in the court’s view, a new trial is warranted as to Defendant Boncy because LaRoche’s deficient representation resulted in Defendant Boncy’s counsel having to play an outsized role at trial rather than pursue his preferred defense strategy for his own client.” In short, the judge concluded that “Defendant Boncy’s trial strategy was distorted as a result of LaRoche’s ineffective representation.”

Both Baptiste and Boncey also sought judgment of acquittals but the judge denied these motions because “in light of LaRoche’s performance, the Court cannot meaningfully undertake an analysis of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

In closing, Judge Burroughs stated:

“Although the Court does not fault the Government in arguing against a new trial and recognizes the burden of a second trial, at the end of the day the Court finds that justice and fairness require that the new trial motions be granted.”

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