The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday over whether or not to execute Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; in a case that could have implications for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and his appeal.
In United States v. Tsarnaev, the nation’s highest court will be asked whether the First Circuit Court of appeals was right to overturn Tsarnaev’s death sentence for the 2013 bombing that killed three and injured more than 260.
The case centers on two factors in the federal district court that convicted Tsarnaev: questions about pretrial publicity during the jury selection process, and if the court erred in excluding evidence at the sentencing phase that Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was involved in a separate triple murder.
Tsarnaev was convicted over the bombing in 2015 following a jury trial, He received the death sentence.
In 2020, the First Circuit ruled that the federal district court should have asked potential jurors about their exposure to media coverage regarding Tsarnaev’s case during the 21-day jury selection process, called the voir dire in legal parlance.
The First Circuit also found that the district court should not have excluded evidence about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s involvement in an unrelated triple murder in 2011 during the sentencing phase. Tamerlan Tsarnaev planted one of the bombs.
Derek Chauvin’s appeal
United States v. Tsarnaev could potentially impact another high profile case: the killing of George Floyd.
Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on June 25 following his conviction over Floyd’s death.
In Tsarnaev’s case, the First Circuit cited “an avalanche of pretrial publicity” in reaching its decision to throw out his death sentence. It is possible Chauvin’s attorneys could make a similar argument that media coverage before the trial had tainted the process.
Chauvin’s attorneys requested a new trial before sentencing in June but this was denied by Judge Peter Cahill, who found the defense had not shown prosecutorial misconduct or that the court abused its discretion. The judge also denied a hearing into possible misconduct by the jurors.
The Supreme Court’s opinion could therefore have major implications for Chauvin and possibly for pretrial publicity of high profile cases in general. It remains to be seen how the now 6-3 majority conservative court will rule ,but the justices’ questions to counsel on Wednesday may be the first indication of their thinking on the matter.
The Department of Justice appealed the First Circuit’s decision on Tsarnaev’s sentence in October, 2020. Former President Donald Trump was still in office at the time but now President Joe Biden has come to office, the DOJ is continuing with the case. This is despite the fact that Biden has publicly opposed the death penalty and the DOJ ordered a halt to federal executions in July pending a review.
There were no federal executions between 2003 and 2020 until the Trump administration ended a 17-year moratorium. There were 13 executions at the federal level in the last six months of Trump’s presidency