Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the two brothers who planned and carried out the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013, a crime that echoed all the way to Seattle. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to die for his crimes. In July 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the capital portion of the sentence and sentenced Tsarnaev to life in prison. Now Tsarnaev’s case is again before the Supreme Court, this time on a motion of the Department of Justice to reinstate his death sentence. Both supporters and opponents of capital punishment are wondering whether President Biden will tell Justice Department attorneys to drop their motion.
Biden’s changing position on the death penalty
President Biden supported the death penalty while he served in the Senate. However, his campaign for president rested in part on his assertion that he would work to abolish the death penalty if elected. He could vindicate the statement of his campaign by ordering Justice Department attorneys to abandon their motion to reverse the Supreme Court’s earlier order.
The current motion
The current motion is a product of the Trump Department of Justice. In setting aside Tsarnaev’s death sentence, the First Circuit ruled that the trial court did not properly screen prospective jurors for pretrial publicity bias. The government’s motion arguing for reinstatement of the death penalty argued that the reversal of the death penalty overturns “one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our Nation’ history.”
Both proponents and opponents of the death penalty are eagerly awaiting President Biden’s decision. The new attorney general Merrick Garland prosecuted the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001. Very few observers believe that Garland would allow the motion to proceed or that the Supreme Court would accept jurisdiction to decide the motion.
In either case, this case illustrates the importance of retaining an experienced and capable criminal appellate lawyer. Not all cases get the attention of the Boston Marathon attack, but in many cases involving a fatality, the life of the client may hang in the balance.