United States Supreme Court Reinstates Death Penalty for Boston Marathon Bomber
The Boston Marathon bombings were a tragic act of domestic terrorism. Brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev planted two homemade pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding hundreds more. The three individuals who died, were two young women and an eight year old boy. They all bled to death after being hit with materials from the bomb. Many of those who were injured lost limbs. In the aftermath of the attacks, the brothers fled and murdered a MIT campus police officer, and got into an altercation with police which resulted in Dzhokhar accidently killing Tamerlan. Dzhokhar was indicted for 30 crimes, including 17 capital offenses. After a lengthy and publicized trial, Dzhokhar was sentenced to death. However the Court of Appeals vacated this decision after finding that the District Court abused its discretion during jury selection by declining to ask about the kind and degree of each prospective juror’s media exposure and that the District Court abused its discretion during sentencing when it excluded evidence concerning Tamerlan’s possible involvement other murders. The Supreme Court took this case in United States v. Tsarnaev.
What happened in the Tsarnaev case?
Excessive media coverage can be a problem when it comes to keeping jurors impartial. Defendants have a right to an impartial jury, but this right does not require that jurors cannot know anything about the case. Trial judges have very broad discretion in jury selection, and it is up to the trial court to decide which jurors have been swayed by the media coverage of a case and which jurors have the ability to remain impartial.
Further, the Supreme Court also found that the District Court did not abuse their discretion in excluding evidence of Tamerlan’s involvement with other murders. The district court is permitted to exclude evidence if the probative value is outweighed by the danger of creating unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury. The Supreme Court found here that the evidence of the brother’s former crimes would confuse the jury and thus was not permitted as mitigating evidence.
In the end, the Supreme Court found that Dzhokhar did receive a fair trial. In the age of 24 hour news, smartphones, and social media, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a 100% impartial jury. However, it is up to the trial court to make this decision, and trial courts have broad discretion.
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