Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Will the Death Penalty be Pursued?


Now that the 19-year-old second bombing suspect has been captured questions remain about how exactly he should be treated. The capture came after an intense 24-hour manhunt in the small town of Watertown, Mass. The Boston Police released the following Tweets following the intense standoff.

And this is the scene outside of a students dorm room in Boston:

As celebrations happen and people finally begin to return to some sense of normalcy, the obvious questions about the fate of the suspect will begin to surface. Currently, what we know is this. The suspect was taken alive, but he apparently received a gun shot would from the previous evening's gun fight. Recent reports have placed him en route to a hospital located in Cambridge, Mass. The suspect can be questioned without having been read his Miranda warning when the safety of the public is believed to be at risk. That, however, has not happened as the suspect is said to be in serious condition. During a press conference given by police officers, they said their first priority was to treat the suspect for his injuries. 

The White House tweeted the takeaways from President Obama's press briefing which happened moments ago: 

Earlier Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham called for the suspect to be treated as an enemy combatant on Twitter.

Speaking to the Washington Post he indicated that the "homeland was a battlefield." The Obama Administration is not likely to change the status of the 19-year-old recent U.S. citizen, as they have been unwilling to do so in the past with other terror suspects. The "underwear bomber" and Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law were both charged under civilian law. 

Why would Graham wish to reclassify the status of the alleged Boston Marathon bomber? It would open up the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but many question the reliability and ethical use of such techniques

"The current administration has a firm and publicly stated policy against using military detention for domestic captures or U.S. citizens. So whatever the (National Defense Authorization Act) may theoretically authorize or tolerate, it doesn't affect this situation," wrote Benjamin Wittes, senior fellow and research director in public law at the Brookings Institution."

Following the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center Bombing's in the 1990s enacted several reforms to habeas corpus. These reforms were part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The act limited the amount of petitions a prisoner had. Though the act was clearly out of a response to terrorism acts, it applies to both capital and non-capital cases

"Procedurally, it bans successive petitions by the same person, requiring defendants to put all of their claims into one appeal. Substantively, it narrows the grounds on which successful habeas claims can be made, allowing claims only to succeed when the convictions were contrary to “clearly established federal law” or an “unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence."

What crimes constitute the punishment of death penalty has been expanded in the past twenty years especially following the September 11 attacks. Some of these laws include the, Terrorist Bombings Convention Implementation Act (2002), and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (2004). These acts expanded the use of the death penalty for crimes that were thought to be related to terrorist acts. Examples include

18 U.S.C. §§ 229 and 229A(a)(2)–knowingly developing, producing, acquiring, transferring directly or indirectly, receiving, stockpiling, retaining, owning, possessing, using, or threatening to use any chemical weapon; or knowingly assisting or inducing any person to do any of the above; or knowingly attempting or conspiring to do any of the above, where death results. 

15 U.S.C. § 1825(a)(2)(C)–killing of an official while engaged in or on account of performance of his or her official duties under 15 U.S.C. § 1821 et seq., which deals with protection of horses in horse shows, exhibitions, sales, or auctions. 

Whether or not this individual will be subject to the death penalty just is not known. It's far too early to tell. What we do know is this, the treatment of this suspect will come under intense scrutiny.