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United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
October 28, 2022, Argued; January 26, 2023, Decided
Docket No. 21-1901-cr
[*626] Gerard E. Lynch, Circuit Judge:
] "[W]e have never reversed a conviction for the failure to ask a particular question of prospective jurors." United States v. Bright, No. 20-3792, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 386, 2022 WL 53621, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2022) (summary order). That is no great surprise: district judges are afforded broad discretion in conducting voir dire. That discretion, however, is not boundless.
Christian Nieves ("Nieves") challenges his conviction, by jury trial, on one count of witness retaliation. The essence of his appeal is that the district court's (Jed S. Rakoff, J.) abbreviated voir dire left him, and the district court, unable to meaningfully screen prospective jurors for bias against gang members, rendering Nieves's trial fundamentally unfair. While we disagree with Nieves's more ambitious arguments on appeal that various individual district court decisions in connection with voir dire were, on their own, per se reversible — including his contention that the district court was required specifically to ask prospective jurors about gang-related bias — we agree that under these circumstances, the district court abused its discretion by failing to take any of several possible steps that could have effectively screened prospective jurors for such bias, or to take [**3] other steps to counter any bias that may in fact have existed among the venire. We therefore VACATE Nieves's conviction and REMAND to the district court for a new trial.
I. The Government's Case against Nieves
A. The Theory of the Case
In May 2019, Nieves — who also goes by the name Eric Rosario and the moniker "White Boy" - was indicted on four counts: witness retaliation in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513(b)(1) [*627] (Count One); conspiring with codefendant Elias Polanco to commit witness retaliation in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513(f) (Count Two); witness tampering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3) (Count Three); and, again with Polanco, conspiring to commit witness tampering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(k) (Count Four).
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
58 F.4th 623 *; 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 2019 **
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee, - v. - CHRISTIAN NIEVES, also known as Sealed Defendant 1, Defendant-Appellant, ELIAS POLANCO, also known as Sealed Defendant 2, Defendant.1
Prior History: [**1] Christian Nieves appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Rakoff, J.) sentencing him to 36 months in prison following his conviction by a jury of witness retaliation. Nieves challenges the manner in which the district court conducted jury selection, arguing primarily that the district court neglected to adequately screen prospective jurors for bias against gang members and that the voir dire process was too abbreviated to allow for informed peremptory and for-cause challenges. We agree that, under these circumstances, the district court exceeded its discretion by failing to sufficiently account for the risk of gang-related bias among prospective jurors, and we therefore VACATE the judgment of the district court and REMAND for further proceedings.
United States v. Nieves, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 234535 (S.D.N.Y., Dec. 14, 2020)
jurors, questions, district court, gangs, bias, voir dire, prospective juror, gang member, impartiality, feelings, inquire, warning, peremptory challenge, retaliation, biases, gang-related, violence, excused, venire, law enforcement, screened, charges, parties, fair and impartial, defense counsel, meaningfully, challenges, pervasive, practices, violent
Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Judicial Discretion, Juries & Jurors, Voir Dire, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Jury Trial, Legislative Intent, Challenges to Jury Venire, Bias & Prejudice, Right to Unbiased Jury, Appellate Review, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Questions to Venire Panel, Challenges for Cause, Bias & Impartiality, Actual & Implied Bias, Relationships, Disqualification & Removal of Jurors, Bias, Peremptory Challenges, Entitlement, Individual Voir Dire, Evidence, Relevance, Relevant Evidence, Reviewability, Preservation for Review, Requirements