Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: A Legal Battle Begins in Boston


After the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured on Friday, he was taken to the hospital, where he remains in critical condition. Now, questions are brewing in Boston over his motives, his trial, and his civil liberties.

Authorities believe Tsarnaev tried to kill himself, because the gunshot wound in his neck that has left him unable to speak “has the appearance of a close-range, self-inflicted style,” according to a senior United States official.

With the widening inquiry to the details of Tsarnaev and his elder brother, Tamerlan’s plot, new details surfaced on Sunday that link the type of weapons that the two brothers used and their bomb design to a terrorist manual. Moreover, it became known that the FBI interviewed Tamerlan in 2011 at the request of the Russian government, which expressed concerns over Tamerlan’s connections to radical Islamic groups. Lawmakers have accused the FBI of an intelligence failure, and have questioned whether the bureau responded forcefully enough to Russia’s warnings.

The FBI agents are now using more conventional tactics to investigate Dzhokhar and his brother. They have been analyzing the brothers’ phone, computer, and credit card records, and have seized material from their apartment and car for evidence of bomb components. However, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has asserted that the evidence he has indicated that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan acted alone.

The evidence stacked against Dzhokhar and his late brother’s plot raises various legal questions. The case is expected to be handled by the federal authorities, who have already begun preparing a criminal complaint that includes the use of weapons of mass destruction, which can carry the death penalty. However, the decision to seek the death penalty must go through Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. through the Department of Justice’s “death-penalty protocol”.

Moreover, the administration has asserted that it plans to question Dzhokhar without delivering his Miranda rights, invoking the exception to the law that is used in the case of “immediate threats to public safety.” While the Justice Department has asserted that cases of terrorism fall under this purview, civil libertarians have objected to this more aggressive interpretation of the rule. However, based on the evidence stacked against Dzhokhar, it does not seem that a usable confession will be needed to convict him.

Even with the impending legal battle in Boston, the city can breathe a sigh of relief. On Face the Nation on CBS, Governor Deval Patrick said that the danger has passed.

“The immediate threat, I think all of law enforcement feels, is over, based on the information we have,” he said. “And that is a good thing, and you can feel the relief at home here.”

However, despite the horror the city of Boston has had to endure, Cardinal O’Malley asserted at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that this act of terror should not breed prejudice.

“We must be a people of reconciliation, not revenge,” the cardinal said. “The crimes of the two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims and against immigrants. The Gospel is the antidote to the ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ mentality.”