Boston prosecutors filed a motion on Monday asking a federal judge to bar accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from viewing autopsy photos of victims, aside from those being used as evidence during the trial.
The prosecutors argue that, although photos are standard procedure of all autopsies, it is unnecessary to allow Tsarnaev the unrestricted right to view all of the pictures. According to the motion, doing so would violate the victim’s families the right to dignity and privacy.
“Specifically, allowing photos of the mutilated bodies of the victims to be viewed by the man accused of mutilating them would needlessly revictimize the family members in the same way that innocent children who are photographed pornographically are revictimized whenever those photos are seen by others,” the motion stated.
However, in regards to his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, it’s understandable why Tsarnaev’s defendants are refusing to accept any limitation on his right to see all of the evidence against him.
Under the Sixth Amendment, defendants are permitted to inspect and copy any physical or medical examinations, including autopsy photos. But, at the same time, according to the motion, the court is allowed to “deny, restrict defer discovery or inspection, or grant other appropriate relief,” if “good cause” is shown. And, in this case, the motion defines “good cause” as a “particular factual demonstration of potential harm.”
The prosecutors argue that it is not necessary for Tsarnaev to see any photos other than those used as evidence against him during the trial, and therefore the court has “good cause” to restrict this right.
Although the prosecutors are acting in the interest of avoiding additional harm to the victim’s families, by arguing this case, they are pinning emotion against law. Although this is an honorable and sympathetic gesture, if we want to remain a country with a fair and equal criminal justice system, we need to grant everyone a fair trial — no matter who they are or what we are pretty sure they did.
There is no denying that this bombing caused extreme emotional and physical damage to the City of Boston and its residents. So naturally, we want to be as sympathetic toward fellow Bostonians as possible during this trial. However, to ensure everyone has the right to a fair trial, our justice system needs to uphold the “innocent until proven guilty” statute. And, as much as it pains people to accept, Tsarnaev is still innocent.
Assuming Tsarnaev would get some sort of twisted pleasure or any sort of reaction from these photos carries the assumption that he is guilty for the bombings last April.
Even though it has not been reported that Tsarnaev is specifically asking to see the photos, barring his access to them would imply that the court is directly biased against him. The judge needs to look at this case in the most objective way, and give Tsarnaev the fair trial he technically deserves — just as other criminals are expected to receive.
Prosecutors argued last year that they would not have enough time to make a defense in time for November’s trial — so why are they wasting time on arguing this? This case has much wider implications than the simple fact of allowing Tsarnaev to see the autopsy photos or not. Rather, it seems this has become more about restricting Tsarnaev’s rights as much as possible, which is not a practice that should be perpetuated in our criminal justice system.
The prosecution itself does not directly cite any murder cases in which defendants were denied the right to see such photos. Instead, it continually references child pornography cases. In no case should an alleged, senseless bombing be compared to the likes of child pornography. Yes, both are disgusting and tragic cases, but the implications of both are different. The only common thread, unfortunately, is the emotional damage for those affected.
This is a case that has stemmed out of emotional rage. This rage is by no means unprecedented, but if we want to uphold the honor in our court system, we cannot let subjective emotions get in the way. Doing so would set dangerous precedents, which would allow cases with no logical or realistic basis to prevail on terms of emotional distress.