United States v. Tsarnaev

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: March 22, 2021
  • Case #: 20-443
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, 968 F.3d 24 (2020)
  • Full Text Opinion

(1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit erred in concluding that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capital sentences must be vacated on the ground that the district court, during its 21-day voir dire, did not ask each prospective juror for a specific accounting of the pretrial media coverage that he or she had read, heard, or seen about Respondent's case; and (2) whether the district court committed reversible error at the penalty phase of Respondent's trial by excluding evidence that Respondent's older brother was allegedly involved in different crimes two years before the offenses for which Respondent was convicted.

Respondent discharged two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, killing three and injuring hundreds. After convicting Respondent of multiple offenses for the bombing, the jury recommended—and the district court imposed—death sentences on six counts. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the First Circuit erred in vacating the death sentence for the district court’s failure to ask prospective jurors for a specific accounting of pretrial media coverage they had seen, heard, or read. Petitioner argues that, with that decision, the court of appeals “announced an unexpected and inflexible voir dire rule that denies district courts the broad discretion to manage juries that [Supreme Court] precedents provide.” Petitioner contends that the district court’s extensive jury-selection procedures appropriately and effectively ensured that Respondent received a fair trial. Petitioner also argues that to reinstate the sentences that the jury and the district court found appropriate, the government will have to retry the penalty phase of the case which means that “the court will have to conduct (and prospective jurors will have to undergo) a voir dire that will presumably be much longer and more onerous than the original 21-day proceeding.” Finally, Petitioner asserts that “[g]iven the profound stakes of the erroneous vacatur of respondent’s capital sentences, the First Circuit should not have the last word.”

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