Friday’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court saw the reinstatement of the death penalty sentence against Dzhokhar Takarov, Boston Marathon bomber.
The 6-3 decision was made strictly along ideological lines — all six conservative bloc justices voted in favor of reinstating Tsarnaev’s death sentence, while all three liberals dissented.
The decision is supported by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which argued in favor of reinstating Tsarnaev’s original sentence last year. These arguments Refuse to accept campaign promises made President Joe BidenThe federal death penalty was abolished by, who ran for office as a candidate. The choice to argue in favor of Tsarnaev’s death sentence also undermines the department’s moratorium on federal executionsAttorney General Merrick Garland implemented the law last summer.
The Court’s ruling overturns a 2020 decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that not enough attention was given to jury selection bias in the caseTsarnaev was denied the evidence he wanted to present during the sentencing phase of his trial. The district judge who was overseeing the proceedings improperly disallowed it.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a scathing dissent against the rulingThe majority did not cite any precedent in their ruling to resolve the problems in district court trials. Breyer recognized, for example, that Tsarnaev’s lawyers were restricted from sharing evidence that suggested his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed by law enforcement following the bombingsDzhokhar was compelled to participate in criminal acts by his accomplice, who played a greater role in them. This information could have had an impact on his sentencing outcome.
During the guilt phases of the district court trial, the judge would not allow such evidence to be heard, over fears that a “minitrial” of Tamerlan would distract and confuse the jury from considering Dzhokhar’s case. Breyer noted that such restrictions had been rejected by the Supreme Court in the past.
“Indeed, this Court has rejected concerns that distracting minitrials should preclude the Government from introducing evidence about a nondefendant third party to show aggravation,” Breyer wrote. “Why then should the same concern preclude a defendant from introducing similar evidence in mitigation?”
Breyer said that the jury selection and evidentiary problems are just the latest in a long line of troubling issues about the federal death penalty that he, and other members of the liberal bloc, have acknowledged over the past few years.
“I have written elsewhere about the problems inherent in a system that allows for the imposition of the death penalty,” Breyer said. “This case provides just one more example of some of those problems.”