Ethics in the Boston Marathon Bombing Trial
The trial of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, one of the alledged bombers from the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, will begin today with jury selection. Tsarnev has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers attempted to reach a plea deal with federal prosecutors, but a deal was unable to be made. Tsarnaev could receive the death penalty, and his attorneys tried to make a deal in which the death penalty is off the table if he pleads guilty. Instead, Tsarnaev would have received a life sentence without parole. The Justice Department has been resistant to removing the option of a death penalty, and Attorney General Eric Holder approved the request to pursue the death penalty. Although Holder is usually against the death penalty, he has said that the heinous nature of Tsarnaev’s crimes and Tsarnaev’s lack of remorse warranted his authorization. The death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in 1982 in Massachusetts, but federal cases in the state may still pursue the death penalty.
Striking a plea deal would have prevented a trial; a trial of this magnitude could take months. No trial means that less money will be spent on Tsarnaev’s case, and prevent emotional pain to survivors and victims’ families. Emotional distress of survivors and victims’ families has been a topic of discussion with this case before, as prosecutors attempted to prevent Tsarnaev from being able to view autopsy photos of victims, saying that it would cause pain to survivors. A judge denied this request. Victims’ families and survivors were warned in December that the evidence for the trial was going to be gruesome and may be difficult to handle. Some survivors have said that they will testify, if summoned. Others simply want to avoid the whole situation. The trial is taking place in Boston; the defense has argued that this makes it nearly impossible to seat a fair jury since the city was so strongly impacted by the bombing. Jury selection has begun in Boston, however, and the trial itself is tentatively set to begin on January 26.
Should the Justice Department continue to pursue the death penalty, especially in a state where it has been ruled unconstitutional? Is it ethical to have survivors and their families relive the events graphically? Should emotional distress be taken into account in trials at all? Is it ethical to hold a high-profile trial in the city where it happened, both from the standpoint of causing emotional pain to others and from the standpoint of the accused being able to have an impartial jury?