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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Pleads Not Guilty, Setting Stage for Trial

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on July 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In what may have been the quickest seven minutes today, a bored-looking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to 30 charges in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. It was Tsarnaev's first public appearance since his arrest April 19, The Associated Press reports.

Of the 30 charges, 17 carry the possibility of the death penalty or life imprisonment, according to the Boston Herald. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will decide whether to pursue capital punishment if he is convicted. The charges include the use of weapons of mass destruction, as well as carjacking and killing a police officer.

It's still early to say how things will go in this case, but emotions will definitely run high. Let's take a look at some factors that will impact the case.

The Evidence

It's hard to say exactly what the prosecution's evidence will be. Sure, we can speculate because we were all glued to the TV for a week watching the Boston PD and FBI track down Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan, but we don't know what investigators have in hand. And then of course, there are potential issues of chain of custody and admissibility.

What we do know for sure is that prosecutors say Tsarnaev wrote on the beams and walls of the boat he was captured in, about his motivations for the bombing. He allegedly wrote: "I can't stand to see such evil [the U.S. killing of Muslim civilians] go unpunished... We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all."

The Representation

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's defense team includes Judy Clarke, a famous defense attorney known for her work on high-profile death penalty cases. Her roster of former clients includes "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, and Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner.

In all three cases, Clarke was able to negotiate plea deals that avoided the death penalty.

The Venue

Holding the trial in Boston may be too close to home for a crime of this magnitude, considering that it brought the bustling city to a halt. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz opined to The Republican that Tsarnaev's defense team may try to have the trial moved to western Massachusetts, in an attempt to avoid prejudice.

The Jury

Finding a jury comprised of people who have not heard of the Boston Marathon bombings, or who do not have strong opinions either way about Tsarnaev's innocence, will be no easy task. We would love to be in the court room for voir dire on this case.

No matter what your personal feelings are about Tsarnaev, it's extreme cases as this that test our principles and positions on issues such as justice, fair trials and the death penalty. (Isn't this why we all went to law school?) While it's too early to speculate on how this case will turn out, the one thing we know is that it will give new meaning to courtroom drama.

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