By Amy Howe
on March 22, 2021
at 5:06 pm
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested at the age of 19 and sentenced to death for his role in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Boston Marathon) bombing.
Almost eight years after two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others, the Supreme Court on Monday announced it would review the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was because of his role Sentenced to death in the 2013 bombings. The US Circuit Court of Appeals last year issued its death sentences, ruling that the District Court should have asked potential jurors what media coverage they saw of Tsarnaev’s case, and that the District Court Evidence from the trial should not have ruled out that Tsarnaev’s older brother, who planted one of the bombs, was involved in a separate triple murder. The Supreme Court decision to hear the case was made on a list of orders issued by the judges’ private conference on March 19.
The Justice Department went to the Supreme Court last October and asked the judges to review the 1st Circle decision. Although the briefing in the case was completed by the end of December and the DOJ had specifically attempted to ensure that the case could be briefed and discussed during the 2020-21 term, the judges considered the case at seven consecutive conferences before accepting the petition of the DOJ finally accepted Mondays. During that time, the Trump administration was replaced by the administration of President Joe Biden, who is reportedly considering an end to the federal death penalty.
The Supreme Court on Monday also approved a review of a second case: Servotronics v Rolls-Royce PLC. Federal law gives the district courts the discretion to instruct anyone in that district to testify or produce documents “to be used in a foreign or international court”. In Servotronics, the judges decide whether this discretion extends to the discovery for use in private foreign arbitration. The question comes to court in a dispute over the payment of losses incurred when a Rolls-Royce-made aircraft engine caught fire after a piece of metal was trapped in a valve made by Servotronics. An agreement between Rolls-Royce and Servotronics required the settlement of disputes between them through arbitration in England. Servotronics then looked for documents from Boeing that manufactured the aircraft in which the engine was used, in Illinois. Rolls-Royce and Boeing attempted to block the subpoena, arguing that federal law would not allow a district court to order the discovery for use in private foreign arbitration, and the lower courts agreed. Servotronics then went to the Supreme Court, which on Monday agreed to take the case. Judge Samuel Alito, who announced he owns Boeing stock, has been reused.
Both cases approved on Monday will be heard orally in the fall. A decision is expected to be made in the next year. The judges have again failed to respond to a high-level Mississippi state petition asking the court to review the constitutionality of a state law banning virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. The lower courts have struck down the law.
Several notable petitions have been denied
The judges declined to review the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association against Raimondo, a challenge to President Barack Obama’s designation of 5,000 square miles of ocean – the size of Connecticut – southeast of Cape Cod as a national monument. Obama relied on the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allowed the President to declare national monuments on “land owned or controlled by the federal government.” The designation resulted in a ban on most commercial fishing, prompting a group of commercial fishing associations to go to court, where they argued that the designation as a memorial to Obama’s ancient powers went beyond the fact that submerged land in the ocean is not land “Controlled” by the federal government. The monument’s boundaries are also larger than necessary to protect the underwater canyons, underwater mountains, and natural resources that the monument is designed to protect, the groups said. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected these arguments, the fishing groups went to the Supreme Court, which denied them.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a four-page opinion on the denial that left little doubt about his final views. He began by asking, “Which of the following is not like the others: (a) a monument, (b) an ancient one … or (c) 5,000 square miles of land under the ocean? If you answered (c), “noted Roberts,” you are not only correct but also speak normal English. “Despite the concerns raised by Roberts in his statement, the petition concludes that the petition ‘does not meet our usual criteria for grant’. Roberts therefore wrote that he agreed with the court’s decision, not this particular case while he “takes into account the often repeated statement that such a refusal should not be taken as an expression of an opinion on the matter”.
The judges also declined to consider a petition from Martin Longoria, a Texas man who was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for being a criminal in possession of firearms. After being charged, Longoria filed a motion to suppress the evidence – eight weapons – found in his home. When that motion was denied, Longoria agreed to be tried by a judge who found him guilty.
At the Longoria hearing, the district court concluded that Longoria had accepted responsibility for his conduct and was therefore entitled to a reduction in his sentence. However, Longoria was not eligible for an additional discount, the court reasoned, as the government had not requested the discount.
The US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the verdict. It stated that “it has long allowed the government to do what it was doing here: withhold the additional cut” “when the accused tries to suppress evidence”. And the government could continue to do so, the appeals court added, even after a 2013 change to the commentary on federal sentencing guidelines on the matter. Longoria then came to the Supreme Court last fall and asked the judges to take his case.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor filed a statement regarding the decision not to allow review; Judge Neil Gorsuch joined her. Sotomayor stressed that Longoria’s case “implied an important and long-standing split between the appellate courts over the correct interpretation of the comment,” with most circles concluding that “a hearing on the repression is not a valid basis for opposing the reduction.” Sotomayor noted that six of the seven seats on the US Criminal Justice Commission are currently vacant and urged the commission to raise and resolve this issue in the near future so that the defendants are treated fairly.
Sotomayor, along with Justice Stephen Breyer, endorsed a statement from Justice Elena Kagan, who approved the refusal to review the case of Charles Thompson, a Texas inmate, whose motion to hear evidence on two allegations related to his death sentence from the 5th circuit . Thompson went to the Supreme Court in October asking the judges to consider the 5th Circuit’s interpretation of the circumstances under which a court may hold a post-conviction evidence hearing in a federal trial. However, the judges rejected this on Monday. Kagan wrote that Circuit 5 “may have falsely deprived Thompson of an evidence hearing,” but she still did not believe the Supreme Court should intervene, partly because it is not clear that a hearing ultimately mattered.
The sixth amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial”. In the Smith v Titus case, the Supreme Court on Monday rejected the case of a Minnesota man convicted of murder for the death of two people who broke into his home. During the trial of Byron Smith, before the jury was sworn in, the judge briefly closed the courtroom to the public to clarify a decision on Smith’s requests to allow testimony of a victim’s involvement in previous break-ins at his home. Smith argued that the decision to close the courtroom violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment. The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected this argument, and the federal courts denied Smith’s requests for post-conviction relief. Smith came before the Supreme Court in November claiming that the Supreme Court decision violated well-established Supreme Court rulings – the standard for post-conviction relief under federal law.
Sotomayor objected to the refusal to review. She expressed concern about what she called the “creeping courtroom closure” in the Minnesota court. She “regrets it[ted] the refusal of this court to give urgently needed guidance to the lower courts ”, she said that she had granted a review and reversed the decision of the lower court even without information and an oral hearing.
The judges will meet again for a private conference on Friday March 26th.
This post was originally published on Howe on the Court.