Tsarnaev Trial Updates: Change of Venue, Private Family Meetings and More

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on June 23, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With trial set for November, we've seen many motions and maneuverings by trial attorneys in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (a/k/a Boston Bomber) case. In just the past year, we've seen Tsarnaev decide to plead not guilty, and the prosecution showed its hand when it filed its notice to seek the death penalty.

Trying to determine the likelihood of obtaining the death penalty in the event that Tsarnaev is found guilty, the prosecution has also asked whether the defense has any intention of submitting expert testimony related to mental capacity -- that is, whether Tsarnaev would plead mental insanity.

Just last week, with Wednesday deadlines looming, we saw more pre-trial rulings.

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Change of Venue

Tsarnaev's attorneys asked federal Judge George A. O'Toole to change the venue of the case and move it to Washington D.C., where according to a survey, only 37.4% of people believe Tsarnaev is guilty of the crimes for which he is charged, reports CNN. The survey indicates that over 50% of people in the Boston and Springfield areas think Tsarnaev is guilty, while 47% of people in Manhattan believe he is guilty.

Tsarnaev's lawyers are arguing that Timothy McVeigh's trial had a change of venue, and that "The community impact here is even greater than that present in McVeigh," because they occurred at the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day, an important day for all Bostonians. Judge O'Toole has not yet ruled on this motion.

Betrayal of the United States

Last Wednesday, Judge O'Toole ruled that prosecutors will be prohibited from arguing that Tsarnaev betrayed the United States after he took an oath when he became a naturalized citizen in 2012, reports The Boston Globe. Judge O'Toole stated it would be "highly inappropriate" and that "It's unduly prejudicial, and I will strike it," because it would be "unfair to draw a distinction between naturalized citizens and native-born citizens," says The Boston Globe. However, Judge O'Toole will allow prosecutors to submit evidence related to betrayal of the United States to determine motive, and whether he was responsible for the bombings.

Private Meetings With Family

Tsarnaev's lawyers sought to get private meetings between Tsarnaev and his family, without the presence of federal agents, but Judge O'Toole ruled against them. Defense attorneys claimed the private meetings would allow them to understand Tsarnaev better, thus preparing them to argue against the death penalty. Judge O'Toole disagreed, and ruled that a federal agent must be present, though it would be a federal agent "from outside Boston, who is not directly involved in the investigation to monitor the meetings at the prison," reports Reuters.

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