Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is pictured in this flyer photo presented as evidence by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Massachusetts on March 23, 2015.
US law firm in Boston | Reuters
The Supreme Court said Monday it would decide whether the death penalty can be reintroduced for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted, along with his older brother, of plotting the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line that resulted in three people killed and hundreds injured.
The court upheld a Justice Department appeal against a lower court decision nullifying Tsarnaev’s death sentence. The U.S. Court of Appeals said Federal Judge George O’Toole failed to ensure that the jury in the high profile case was impartial.
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Attorneys for Tsarnaev argued in court files that judges should not consider the appeal of the Ministry of Justice. They wrote that the 1st Circuit is likely to pass the death sentence for other reasons related to the jury’s wrongdoing, even if the court joins the division.
Tsarnaev, 27, has been sentenced to 20 life sentences in addition to the death penalty and will remain in prison for the rest of his life regardless of the Supreme Court suit.
The case was challenged by the Justice Department in October while former President Donald Trump was still in office. It will be a test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to ending the federal death penalty, which Trump resumed after a hiatus of nearly two decades.
Civil rights groups have urged Biden to order Justice Department prosecutors to stop seeking the sentence. Biden worked to work with Congress to eradicate death sentences at the federal level and encourage states to do so.
The court is expected to hear the case during its term in office starting next fall. The decision is expected in summer 2022.
The White House and a Tsarnaev lawyer did not return requests for comment. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference later Monday that she had no updates on death penalty policy.
The central point of contention in this case is whether the jury was adequately screened to eradicate possible distortions arising from the extensive media coverage of the bombings.
While the court asked the jurors how much they had read about the case, O’Toole declined requests from Tsarnaev’s attorneys to ask potential jurors more specific questions about the coverage they had seen and their impressions of the attack.
Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, in her July 2020 Court of Appeal ruling, wrote that the lower court decision deprived Tsarnaev of receiving a fair trial, citing jury questions and the decision to exclude evidence that Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlane, had him influenced. Tamerlane was killed in a shootout with police days after the bombing.
“A key promise of our criminal justice system is that even the worst among us deserves to be tried fairly and lawfully punished,” Thompson wrote for the court.
Thompson ordered the district court to appoint a new jury and hold a new trial “strictly limited to what sentence Dzhokhar should receive in relation to the death penalty”.
The Justice Department asked the judges to review this decision. The then acting attorney general Jeffrey Wall wrote in a letter that the lifting of a “nationally significant” capital penalty “on the basis of a circuit-specific rule speaks strongly in favor of the intervention of this court.”
“Given the importance of this case to the nation, the appeal review should include the nation’s highest court,” Wall wrote.
He added that the US would be forced to “abandon the prosecution of the death penalty in this case” or go through another trial if the courts did not reverse the 1st Circuit decision, which would result in the victims of the Bomb attack “relive their disturbing experiences”. “”