Saturday, January 31, 2015

Catholics Not Barred From Boston Bomber Jury

According to news reports, Catholics are being kept off the jury in the Boston Bombing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev due to the Church's stand on the death penalty. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that cases where the death penalty can be justified are "very rare, if practically nonexistent."

The problem is, that's not how jury selection works.

In 1968, the United States Supreme Court decided the appeal of a man who had been given the death sentence by an Illinois court (Witherspoon v. Illinois). Potential jurors had been excluded on the basis of their general scruples against capital punishment. The Supreme Court said that deprived Witherspoon of a fair trial. For a successful challenge, prosecutors had to establish that a juror could never consider the death penalty in any case, or at any rate not in the case at hand.

By the same token, the defense must "reverse-Witherspoon" potential jurors to get rid of jurors who would certainly vote for the death penalty in the case. It is a similarly tough standard as the one for prosecutors. (One of the arts of capital defense is "rehabilitating" anti-capital-punishment potential jurors -- the ones the defense wants -- by getting them to agree that they would at least consider the death penalty.)

The practical result is that defendants will face a "Witherspooned" jury made of up people who have already sworn they will consider the death penalty.

There is absolutely no reason Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's jury shouldn't have Catholics on it. Without a doubt, many Catholics could consider a sentence of death. Catholic potential jurors will undergo voir dire like everyone else, and each one will be handled individually on the basis of his or her answers.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev


  1. I've been asked a lot of questions as a potential juror, but never whether I was Catholic. (Though that came out once when asked if we knew any one in the jury pool - two of us attended daily Mass at the same parish. I ended up on the jury; he did not.)

    However, I have never been on a potential death penalty case. But since many Catholics don't follow Church teachings, it doesn't seem a useful question.

    1. I'd want to know. Death penalty questioning is vastly different from other kinds of cases, as you correctly guessed. That's the sort of thing that is probably best handled by a questionnaire.

    2. Elizabeth:

      By itself it is not a useful question. Those questioning the potential juror would ask many additonal questions, to get a much better picture of that pj leanings.

      Catholics cannot be automatically excluded because they are Catholic, but for other reasons

  2. Sounds like they're having a hard time finding any one open to mercy or the possibility of innocence. They're ready to hang him.

    1. Pete:

      It is an obvious legal and rational requirement that all chosen jurors must be able to give any of the avaialble sanction for any case.

      If you cannot give the range of legal sanctions, you can't be a juror.

  3. P.S. Many people do NOT want to be on this jury. They don't want to do their civic duty; their jobs come first. They want him dead, but want some one else to do it.

    Also, though it's not stated, I wonder how many have worried that they could become terrorist targets if they convict Tsarnaev and sentence him to death.

  4. That's why they will call literally hundreds of people to get just 12. In a case like this, maybe more than that. It really is a sacrifice to give up whatever it is you do all day for a lengthy trial, not to mention the psychological trauma of viewing gruesome photographs and perhaps voting to send a person to death.

    1. So true, a huge duty and privilage and also a big burden, which some cannot, understandably, undertake.


Moderation is On.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...