Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Bostonians can’t be impartial in trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Several of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s relatives testified to provide grounds to demand an immediate retrial in another location, following his initial trial in 2015 at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston. Three years ago, Tsarnaev was found guilty by a jury of seven women and five men on all 30 counts he was charged with, including the bombing of a place of public use.

But was the jury, with one juror hailing from the city, capable of impartiality?

Tsarnaev’s moniker as the “Boston Marathon bomber” was known and repeated before his initial trial or his real name was ever reported. His name will be recognized no matter where in the country the trial is held. But in Boston, specifically, the name evokes high emotion.

In any matter of life and death, no matter the character of the person or the accusations waged against them, they deserve a fair and impartial trial. However, the likelihood of this may be slim in a city that has been impacted by this horrific terrorist act. There is little doubt that Boston residents have intense emotions and biases toward the convicted perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The Sixth Amendment states that an accused person has the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district where the crime was committed.

It makes sense for someone to be judged in the community where the crime was committed, but the fairness of the trial is the most important factor. If trying Tsarnaev in Boston will impede his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, he should be tried elsewhere.

How does one balance these two potentially conflicting elements: the locality of the trial and the right to an impartial jury?

The Boston Marathon symbolizes now more than ever the fortitude of our city. It is doubtful that any Boston resident would be able to act as an impartial juror. The terrorist act Tsarnaev  committed did not only affect the four people killed and 264 injured — it affected every person who calls Boston home.

The issue over the retrial is not about Tsarnaev’s guilt. He apologized for his role in the bombing during his hearing prior to his sentencing by a federal judge. The issue surrounds whether he should have received the death sentence. Tsarnaev could be the United States’ first execution of a terrorist since 9/11.

If he were to appeal in another location, this could ensure finality and a reduction of inherent biases. While no part of the country is entirely immune to bias against Tsarnaev, the Boston metropolitan area would certainly not serve as an impartial environment.

A party or plaintiff can request a change of venue “in the interest of justice,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed a motion during the summer with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston contending for this change in venue. Impartiality should be the first priority in every court case, especially in a case deciding a person’s life.

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