News Releases
February 25, 2015

Statement by BBA President Julia Huston on the Trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Press Release

The bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 was a day unlike any other for the city of Boston. With each new step in the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we are reminded of the profound losses felt by the victims, their families, and the community at large. At the same time, we also remember — with pride — how our city came together quickly to comfort, assist, and rebuild.

The judicial process plays a fundamental role in Boston’s healing. As such, it requires careful consideration and patience in the face of deeply felt emotion. On the eve of final jury selection, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) respectfully asks the Department of Justice to seek a life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty. We believe that this can more swiftly close this chapter in our city’s history and return the focus to healing.

The BBA has a 40-year history of opposition to capital punishment. It is our view that the death penalty is fundamentally inconsistent with the fair administration of our system of justice:

• The inevitability of error in criminal cases makes it overwhelmingly likely that reliance on the death penalty will lead to the execution of innocent defendants.
• In practice, the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities.
• Pursuit of the death penalty is an inordinately expensive gesture, inconsistent with the sensible allocation of resources in a criminal justice system already laboring under great financial strain.

These systemic flaws compel the BBA to speak openly against capital punishment, even when the facts of a specific case do not appear to raise questions about innocence or discrimination.

The BBA has studied the issue of capital punishment extensively, and released a report in December of 2013. We found that of the 492 defendants against whom the US Justice Department has sought the death penalty in the last 27 years, three — or 0.6% — have been executed. For those found guilty and sentenced to death, the appeals process lasts an average of 16 years and often ends in commutation to life in prison.

Furthermore, even if a defendant enters a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence, victims still have their day in court, literally. Each will have the opportunity to face the defendant, look him in the eye, and tell him directly how the crime profoundly changed his or her life forever.

The attack on the Marathon broke the hearts of every person who lives in or loves Boston, and no one will ever forget what terrible losses the victims have suffered. As a further symbol of community unity, let’s not align ourselves with a capital punishment system that is so deeply flawed.