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United States v. Munyenyezi

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

March 25, 2015

BEATRICE MUNYENYEZI, Defendant, Appellant

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Mark E. Howard, with whom David W. Ruoff and Howard & Ruoff, PLLC, were on brief, for appellant.

Mark T. Quinlivan, Special Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Donald Feith, Acting United States Attorney, District of New Hampshire, and Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, District of Massachusetts, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Thompson and Barron, Circuit Judges.


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THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.


Man's inhumanity to man is limitless. Any doubt, just recall the 1994 genocide in

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Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days, roving bands of Hutus (Rwanda's majority ethnic group) slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, most of them Tutsis (a minority group long-dominant in Rwanda). Some of the crazed killers belonged to the Interahamwe, the dreaded militia of a Hutu political party known by the initials, MRND.[2] About 7,000 Rwandans died each day, often butchered by machete-wielding Interahamwes at roadblocks set up to catch fleeing Tutsis. And these killers didn't just kill -- they raped, tortured, and disfigured too.

Now meet Beatrice Munyenyezi, a Hutu from Rwanda. She spent the genocide months (pregnant with twin girls) living at the Hotel Ihuriro in Butare, Rwanda -- a hotel managed by her husband, Shalom Ntahobali, and owned by her mother-in-law, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. Ntahobali and Nyiramasuhuko were no ordinary hoteliers, however. He was an Interahamwe leader who manned a notorious roadblock in front of the hotel. She was a high-powered minister in Rwanda's MRND government who kicked-off the killing frenzy there by telling the party's devotees that all Tutsi " cockroaches" must die. And Hutu thugs ultimately massacred more than 100,000 Tutsis in and around Butare.

Munyenyezi fled to Kenya in the genocide's waning days. Hoping to come to the United States as a refugee, she filled out immigration form I-590 in 1995, writing " none" when asked to list " political, professional or social organizations" that she had been a member of or affiliated with since her " 16th birthday." [3] She also affirmed there that she had neither committed a crime of moral turpitude nor persecuted people on grounds of race, religion, or politics. Asked on another form whether she was personally affected by the " atrocities" in Rwanda -- " Were you a victim? A witness? Were you otherwise involved?" -- she simply wrote " family members disappeared." And she answered " no" to the question whether she either had a hand in killing or injuring persons during the genocide or had encouraged others to do so. The government approved her papers in 1996, and she moved to the United States in 1998.

About a year later Munyenyezi applied to change her status to lawful permanent resident. One question on her application asked her to jot down her " present and past membership in or affiliation with every political organization, association, . . . party, club, society or similar group" since turning 16. She wrote " none." She also checked " no" in answer to the questions whether she had ever committed a crime of moral turpitude and whether she had anything to do with genocide or with killing or injuring persons because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. The government approved her application in 2001.

In 2003 Munyenyezi applied for naturalization as an American citizen, declaring that the answers in her form N-400 -- a naturalization form -- were truthful. Answers on that form included that she had (a) never been associated with any organization, party, club, or the like; (b) never done a crime leading to her arrest or conviction; and (c) never lied to or misled federal officials to get immigration benefits.

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She became a naturalized citizen later that year.

In 2006 Munyenyezi testified at an international criminal court -- commonly called the ICTR -- as a witness for her husband (he was being prosecuted for his role in the Rwandan genocide).[4] There she said that she saw no roadblock near her family's hotel or dead bodies in Butare, and she also said that her husband was no gé nocidaire. Just a few short months after she testified, the federal government pulled her immigration file to check for any illegalities.

Convinced that she had concealed her role in the Rwandan genocide -- her part in the killings and rapes at the roadblock next to the Hotel Ihuriro, and her ties to the MRND and the Interahamwe -- federal prosecutors later indicted Munyenyezi in 2010 on two counts of procuring citizenship illegally by making false statements to the government. See 18 U.S.C. § § 1425(a) and (b). Her first trial ended in a hung jury. A second trial resulted in convictions. Using the 2002 edition of the federal sentencing guidelines, the judge then sentenced her to two concurrent 120-month prison terms.

On appeal Munyenyezi challenges the sufficiency of the proof against her, contests an evidentiary ruling, alleges prosecutorial misconduct, and questions the reasonableness of her sentence. We address each issue in turn, presenting only those facts needed to put matters into perspective. And at the end of it all, we find no reason to reverse.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

As promised, we lead off with Munyenyezi's claim that the evidence is insufficient for a sensible jury to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that she infracted sections 1425(a) and (b). Hers is an uphill fight, however. See, e.g., Polanco, 634 F.3d at 45. Reviewing the record de novo -- because (as the government concedes) she preserved the argument below -- and taking the evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most helpful to the prosecution, we see whether she has shown (as she must) that no rational jury could have convicted her. See id. And so doing, we take special care to remember our long list of " cannots" : we cannot reweigh the evidence, secondguess the jury on credibility issues (actually, we must assume it resolved credibility disputes consistent with the verdict), or consider the relative merits of her theories of innocence (because what matters is not whether a jury reasonably could have acquitted but whether it could have found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). See id.; see also United States v. Acosta-Colón, 741 F.3d 179, 191 (1st Cir. 2013).

Section 1425(a) makes it a crime for a person to " knowingly procure[] or attempt[] to procure . . . citizenship" illegally. One way to do that is to make false statements in a naturalization application. See 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a). And -- according to our judicial superiors -- there are " four independent requirements" for a section 1425(a) crime: " the naturalized citizen must have misrepresented or concealed some fact, the misrepresentation or concealment must have been willful, the fact must have been material, and the naturalized citizen must have procured citizenship as a result of the misrepresentation or concealment." Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 767, 108 S.Ct. 1537, 99 L.Ed.2d 839 (1988); see also United States v. Mensah, 737 F.3d 789, 808-09 (1st Cir. 2013) (discussing Kungys in exquisite detail). Section 1425(a)'s next-door neighbor,

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section 1425(b), makes it a crime for a person to " knowingly . . . procure . . . naturalization . . . or citizenship" that she is not entitled to. One must have good moral character to be eligible for citizenship, of course. See 8 U.S.C. § 1427(a). And two of the many things that negate good character are (unsurprisingly) helping commit genocide, see 8 U.S.C. § 1101(f)(9), and making materially ...

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