Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence for Boston Bomber

March 4, 2022 by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Reinstates Death Sentence for Boston Bomber
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Friday reinstated the death sentence of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, reversing a lower court ruling that held the trial court erred in seating jurors who had not been asked about their exposure to pretrial publicity.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to ask each juror how much they’d seen or heard through the media about the bombings.

“We have repeatedly said that jury selection falls ‘particularly within the province of the trial judge,’” Thomas wrote, quoting several precedents. “That is so because a trial ‘judge’s appraisal is ordinarily influenced by a host of factors impossible to capture fully in the record, such as a prospective juror’s inflection, sincerity, demeanor, candor, body language and apprehension of duty.’”

“A trial court’s broad discretion in this area includes deciding what questions to ask prospective jurors,” Thomas added.


Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaigh and Amy Coney Barrett all joined in the majority opinion. Barrett also wrote a concurring opinion that Gorsuch joined.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion which Justice Elena Kagan joined and Sonia Sotomayor joined in part.

Thomas also held the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals erred in overturning the death sentence on the grounds that the trial court excluded evidence that Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan had committed unsolved murders in Waltham, Massachusetts.


Dzhokhar wanted to cite the murders as evidence that his brother was the ringleader in the Boston Bombing, which left three people dead and hundreds injured.

Thomas noted the Federal Death Penalty Act provides that, at the sentencing phase of a
capital trial, “information may be presented as to any matter relevant to the sentence, including any mitigating or aggravating factor.”

In this case, however, he said the evidence Dzhokhar wanted to introduce would have afforded the jury no opportunity to confirm or assess Tamerlan’s alleged role in the Waltham murders.

He also said a trial court is well within its rights to exclude information at sentencing “if
its probative value is outweighed by the danger of creating unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury.”

“Dzhokhar’s counter arguments are unconvincing,” he concluded.


“Dzhokhar Tsarnaev committed heinous crimes. The Sixth Amendment nonetheless guaranteed him a fair trial before an impartial jury. He received one,” Thomas said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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