United States v. Louis, 050218 FED4, 17-4199
|Docket Nº:||17-4199, 17-4200|
|Opinion Judge:||DIAZ, Circuit Judge|
|Party Name:||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. MONCLAIRE SAINT LOUIS, a/k/a Montclaire Saint Louis, a/k/a Top, a/k/a Top M.S.T., Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. ULRISTE TULIN, a/k/a Blade, Defendant-Appellant.|
|Attorney:||Vernida Rochelle Chaney, CHANEY LAW FIRM PLLC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant Ulriste Tulin. Nader Hasan, LAW OFFICE OF NADER HASAN, PC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant Monclaire Saint Louis. Ronald Leonard Walutes, Jr., OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee....|
|Judge Panel:||Before MOTZ and DIAZ, Circuit Judges, and Robert J. CONRAD, Jr., United States District Judge for the Western District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.|
|Case Date:||May 02, 2018|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit|
Argued: January 25, 2018
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Liam O'Grady, District Judge. (1:15-cr-00173-LO-1; 1:15-cr-00173-LO-2)
Vernida Rochelle Chaney, CHANEY LAW FIRM PLLC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant
Ulriste Tulin. Nader Hasan, LAW OFFICE OF NADER HASAN, PC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant
Monclaire Saint Louis. Ronald Leonard Walutes, Jr., OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney, Joseph Attias, Special Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellee.
Before MOTZ and DIAZ, Circuit Judges, and Robert J. CONRAD, Jr., United States District Judge for the Western District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.
DIAZ, Circuit Judge
Monclaire Saint Louis and Ulriste Tulin are Haitian nationals whose involvement in the kidnappings of two Americans in Haiti during the summer of 2012 landed them in federal court in Alexandria. They were convicted at trial and now appeal. Although we agree with the district court's observation that "[i]t certainly was not a perfect trial, " J.A. 1080, the issues raised by Saint Louis and Tulin ultimately do not warrant reversal. For the reasons explained below, we affirm.
In early June 2012, Yvroseline Fergile, a U.S. citizen, was kidnapped in Haiti. A group of men forced her at gunpoint into her car, beat her severely, and drove her to a house where they held her for seven days before she escaped. While in captivity, Fergile was able to speak with and see her kidnappers.
After Fergile escaped, Haitian police showed her a poster of a rap group, "Misyon Skwad, " that was recovered during their search of the house where she was held. Fergile identified two individuals in the poster who she claimed were involved in her kidnapping: (1) defendant Saint Louis, also known as "Top, " who was pictured in the poster next to the name "Top M.S.T, " and (2) an individual identified as "Kwason" in the poster. Defendant Tulin was also pictured in the poster (shown with the nickname "Blade"), but Fergile did not identify him.
Later that summer, Ariante Marcelin-also a U.S. citizen-was abducted from her home at gunpoint by a group of men. One of the men assaulted and raped Marcelin's niece, who was at Marcelin's home when the kidnapping occurred. The men held Marcelin for four days. She was freed after one of her captors, Samson Jolibois, was arrested and led police to the house where she was being held. Jolibois implicated Saint Louis in the kidnapping, and police arrested Saint Louis later that day.
Several weeks later, FBI agent Alfred Watson traveled to Haiti to investigate the Marcelin kidnapping. After arriving in Haiti, Watson learned of Fergile's kidnapping and also began investigating that matter. Watson interviewed Jolibois, who told him that he, Saint Louis, and Tulin were among Fergile's kidnappers.
In mid-September 2012-approximately three months after Fergile's kidnapping- Watson interviewed Fergile in New York. He showed her three separate six-person photo arrays and asked if she recognized anyone. The first array contained a photo of Jolibois, which the FBI took while he was in Haitian custody. Fergile was unable to identify Jolibois. The second array contained a photo of Saint Louis, also taken by the FBI while he was in Haitian custody. Fergile identified Saint Louis, and added that she remembered that during the kidnapping, he had bragged about driving the vehicle.
The third array contained a photo of Tulin, which had been extracted from a scanned image of the "Misyon Skwad" rap poster that Haitian authorities had previously shown Fergile. Tulin was not in custody in Haiti when the FBI prepared the array, and the rap poster photo of Tulin was the only one the FBI had available. Tulin's photo was dark, appeared blurry, and showed a jagged, pixelated border from having been cropped and lifted from the rap poster. The other five filler photos showed individuals with hairstyles similar to Tulin's, and several were taken against a dark background and had rough, pixelated borders to make them appear cropped.
Fergile identified Tulin in the array. She recalled that Tulin had told her that he needed money because he was poor and she was rich. Fergile also told Watson that the Haitian police had shown her a rap poster and that Tulin's photo had been in the poster.
Saint Louis and Tulin were each charged with conspiracy and two substantive counts of hostage-taking under 18 U.S.C. § 1203 and use of a firearm during a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924. They were tried together in December 2016. We briefly recount the events surrounding each of the issues they raise on appeal.
1. Before trial, Tulin sought to suppress all identification evidence and testimony related to Fergile's identification of him in the FBI's photo array. He argued that the array was unnecessarily suggestive and violated due process because (1) it recycled Tulin's photo from the rap poster that Fergile had already seen in Haiti in a suggestive show-up procedure, and (2) Tulin's photo was darker and of a lower quality compared to the others in the array. The district court denied the motion, concluding that the array was not unduly suggestive. But the court noted that it would revisit the issue after Fergile testified at trial.
At trial, Fergile failed to identify Tulin in the courtroom. She could recall only that she had identified two individuals when Watson showed her the three photo arrays over four years earlier. She also confirmed that she had identified only Saint Louis and Kwason in the rap poster just after her escape. Nonetheless, evidence of Fergile's later identification of Tulin came in through Agent Watson's testimony.
At the close of the government's case and in a later motion for a new trial, Tulin again asked the district court to exclude evidence of Fergile's identification. The court denied both motions based on its view that the photo arrays were done "professionally" and "resulted in the identification of Mr. Tulin." J.A. 1116.
2. Saint Louis and Tulin moved in limine to exclude evidence relating to the rape of Marcelin's niece. Instead of excluding the evidence entirely, the court ruled that it would only allow testimony that Marcelin's niece was assaulted, without reference to the sexual nature of the incident. But when Jolibois testified at trial, he let slip that one of the kidnappers had raped Marcelin's niece. J.A. 658. The district court struck the answer, instructed the jury not to consider it, and denied the defendants' subsequent motion to declare a mistrial. Then, on cross-examination, Jolibois mentioned that the perpetrator was "pulling up his pants." J.A. 685. The district court struck this answer, too. Before the jurors retired, the district court instructed them to disregard the stricken testimony and reminded them that "[t]he defendants are not on trial for any act or any conduct not specifically charged in the indictment." J.A. 775.
3. Marcelin testified for the government, recounting her experience as a kidnapping victim. She confirmed (corroborating Jolibois's testimony) that she knew Tulin personally because she had employed him as a security guard at her home. According to Tulin, Marcelin waved and smiled at him as she stepped down from the witness...
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