This week, the Massachusetts trial of Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev continues in much the same way that a death penalty trial would in Florida or Texas.
The Two Parts of a Death Penalty Trial
In the Boston Marathon Bomber's case, just like a Florida death penalty trial or a Texas case seeking the execution of the defendant:
- The jury has decided that the defendant is guilty.
- The jury verdict includes a crime for which state law provides the death penalty.
- The prosecution has sought capital punishment in the case - something that was noticed and known to both the state's attorneys and the criminal defense team from very early on in the process.
- Now, the Boston Marathon Bomber's courtroom trial proceeds into the part of the case where Terence Lenamon takes the lead for his defendants: that is, the penalty phase of the capital case.
- The prosecution will be arguing for death and citing "aggravating factors" that the jury should consider in its deliberations.
- The defense will be urging "mitigating factors" that should be balanced against the death penalty in the jury's decision-making.
Federal Law Controls Death Penalty Decision by Jury
This case, however, is controlled by federal law. Specifically, 18 USC Section 3592, the federal statute for "Mitigating and aggravating factors to be considered in determining whether a sentence of death is justified."
The prosecutors only need to prove ONE aggravating factor to the jury in order to support their demand for the death penalty as a sentence. Given the death of a small boy at the scene, reportedly near the site where the bomb was placed and within view of the defendant at the time that the bomb was left there, there are facts which may be sufficient on this one circumstance to meet this legal burden under the federal statute.
The defense, looking at mitigating factors, may well point to the young age of the defendant and an argument that he was unduly influenced by his older brother - the other bomber who died during the arrest. Some may expect to see evidence presented that survivors of the blast are opposed to the death penalty (but the state may argue against its admission).
Other psychological evidence may be presented, and the defense only has to meet a "preponderance of the evidence" standard (something akin to 51%) to prove the mitigation arguments. That's a lower burden than the prosecutor must meet.
Will the jury sentence this man to death? Would you?
We're getting information now about how the death penalty and capital punishment fared in 2014. The first quarterly report from the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund has been released.
image: Cell on Florida's Death Row
U.S. Death Row Populations: Most in California, 43% White
From it, we now have statistical confirmation that there were less people on death row last year. Across the nation, the death row population decreased by 12%. There were around 3000 people on Death Row at the end of 2014, around 450 less than the previous year.
The report shows that of these Death Row inmates, 43% are white; 42% are black; and 13% are Latino/Latina.
Florida continues to have the largest Death Row population in the country, second only to California, with 403 inmates (California has 743). Texas is third with 276 people living on its Death Row.
Death Row and Executions
One thing to point out here: in the top three listed above, both Florida and Texas are high with the number of Death Row inmates and both these states are active in executing people and carrying out capital punishment sentences.
Not so, California.
One reason that California is number one in Death Row population statistics is that California isn't executing people like Florida, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, etc. Instead, the population on the California Death Row grows.
So much so, in fact, that the state has run out of room. To keep doing what its doing, California will have to spend cash to expand its Death Row facilities. See the recent Los Angeles Times story for details, "California's death row, with no executions in sight, runs out of room."
Terence Lenamon works to defend all his clients who are facing the possibility of capital punishment, and he works particularly hard for those defendants who have mental capacity issues based upon psychological and/or physical concerns.
Mitigating factors in these areas should prevent these individuals from being given the death penalty, much less being executed; however, as these statistics show, and as Terry Lenamon discusses regularly, the reality is that people with mental challenges are executed in this country regardless of the constitutional prohibition against it being cruel and unusual punishment.