Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Deciding on death penalty in bombing case

On a recent program, CNN’s Piers Morgan asked Arnold Schwarzenegger his opinion on whether accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty. Although admitting that he was not fully informed about the case, the former Governor of California responded, “If convicted, I think that yeah, he should get the death penalty. Yes."

While Schwarzenegger, like the rest of us, is welcome to have and express an opinion, certainly the decision on such an important, life-and-death matter should not be based on what the majority of the public thinks or wants.

But what about the bombing victims and their families? Should their majority be a major factor on whether the Federal Government should seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev? And should their wishes be communicated to the jury?

Consistent with Justice Department procedure, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz is in fact consulting with the victims and their families' families before making a recommendation to Attorney General Holder. Reportedly, she has distributed a questionnaire to hundreds of victims that includes the matter of capital punishment.

Hopefully, this part of the decision-making process is more about political correctness than public policy. It is absolutely appropriate for the victims to be kept informed about significant developments in the case. However, the preferences of victims should not guide either prosecutorial strategy or sentencing decisions.


By James Alan Fox, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy, Northeastern University. Source: Corrections.com, Sept. 3, 2013.