Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev officially appealed Friday morning to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, according to Susan Goldberg, the circuit executive for the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tsarnaev was sentenced to death after he was found guilty on 30 counts for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260, The Daily Free Press reported on May 16, 2015.
Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor, explained in an email the process that cases follow as they move forward after an initial trial.
“There are typically three phases of litigation after trial: the motion stage, where the defendant makes claims back in the trial court — [U.S. District] Judge [George] O’Toole just resolved them and issued the restitution order; the direct appeal in the intermediate appellate court, in this instance, the First Circuit; and then the post-conviction or collateral petition phase,” Medwed wrote in the email.
After Tsarnaev’s lawyers requested a new trial, O’Toole denied the motion and ordered Tsarnaev to pay more than $101 million in restitution to the victims of the bombing, The Daily Free Press reported on Jan. 20, 2016.
Medwed noted that this request for a new trial is a necessary step for Tsarnaev’s lawyers in order for them to file for an appeal.
“The current appeal is called a direct appeal because it directly attacks what happened at trial,” Medwed wrote in an email. “A defendant cannot bring in new evidence, or even generally raise new issues, that were not presented below. It truly constitutes a review of the trial and post-trial motion record by a higher court.”
David Rossman, a professor in Boston University’s School of Law, said one of the principal reasons behind Tsarnaev’s appeal is the request of the defense team for a new venue for the trial.
“The main ground that I understand they’re going to present has to do with the trial court’s decision not to transfer this case out of Boston and move it to some other jurisdiction,” Rossman said.
When Tsarnaev originally made a request for a new venue for his trial to O’Toole, the judge explained in his Jan. 15, 2016 court order that the defendant claimed media attention in Massachusetts to have made an unbiased jury impossible.
“The defendant now again renews his venue argument, contending generally that local media coverage, local events, and information or postings on social networks during the course of the trial should raise a presumption of prejudice and requires a conclusion that the District of Massachusetts was an improper venue for his trial,” O’Toole wrote in his order.
However, O’Toole noted that any venue would likely have similar media attention.
“There is no reason to think that if the trial had been moved to another district, the local media in that district would not also have given it attentive coverage,” O’Toole wrote in the order. “What was first a national story would have become a local story in that venue.”
Rossman agreed that the case had such nationwide attention that any venue would have had similar media coverage.
“This case was one that drew the attention of the entire nation,” Rossman said. “I don’t know that they would be able to say that if they had moved the trial elsewhere, that jury would have been somewhat less personally involved in that case.”
While the request for a change of venue remains compelling, Medwed also noted that the most complex part of the appeal process is still to come.
“The post-conviction phase is far more complicated, but that typically occurs after the completion — exhaustion in legalese — of the direct appeal,” Medwed wrote in an email.
Several residents said they expected Tsarnaev’s lawyers to file a request for an appeal.
Alex Antonescu, 32, of Back Bay, said to his understanding, the defense team has been prepping for an appeal for some time now.
“I think everyone kind of knew he would file for an appeal,” she said. “That doesn’t mean he’ll get one, and he shouldn’t get a new decision, but I think everyone expected his lawyers to do this. They have just been preparing for it up until now.”
Kristi Zheku, 27, of the South End, said even though it was an expected move from Tsarnaev’s lawyers, she doesn’t expect a new decision.
“I think it’s ridiculous that his lawyers think he actually has a chance of getting a not-guilty verdict,” she said. “It’s what his lawyers have to do, but it seems like there is no way it would actually go in his favor.”
Terry Johnston, 42, of the North End, agreed that even though she doesn’t expect a different verdict, she understands why Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed for an appeal.
“The appeal will anger anyone who is from Boston, but I guess it’s expected,” she said. “It’s the next move anyone in that situation would make. I don’t think it’ll change anything though. I don’t see how he would ever be found not guilty.”
Kennedy Davis and Carolyn Hoffman contributed to the reporting of this article.