Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhorkar Tsarnaev’s death sentence due to a trial judge not properly vetting a juror for possible bias. Tsarnaev was convicted and sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the horrific April 2015 Boston Marathon bombing which killed 3 people and injured more than 260 other people. In a 224 page opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Tsarnaev will receive a new sentencing trial where a new set of jurors will again decide if the death sentence is appropriate. The Court did note, however, that even though they set aside 3 of Tsarnaev’s 30 convictions, “Tsarnaev will remain confined to prison for the rest of his life, with the only question remaining being whether the government will end his life by executing him.”
Regarding the improper jury bias, the Federal Court held the trial court judge “fell short” of his duty to thoroughly and properly question jurors to identify potential biases before they were seated as jurors. The Court held:
“A core promise of our criminal-justice system is that even the very worst among us deserves to be fairly tried and lawfully punished . . . To help make that promise a reality, decisions long on our books say that a judge handling a case involving prejudicial pretrial publicity must elicit “the kind and degree” of each prospective juror’s “exposure to the case or the parties” . . . only then can the Judge reliably assess whether a potential juror can ignore that publicity.”United States v. Tsarnaev, No. 16-6001 (1st Cir. July 31, 2020) at p. 4.
For example, the trial court judge, “stopped Tsarnaev’s counsel from asking prospective jurors questions like, ‘what did you know about the facts of this case before you came to court today (if anything)?’ and ‘what stands out in your mind from everything you have heard, read, or seen about the Boston Marathon bombing and the events that followed it.’” Id. at 20. Thus, based on the improper handling of voir dire and not thoroughly vetting jurors for potential bias, Tsarnaev will now receive a new sentencing trial to determine if the death penalty is appropriate.