On March 4, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Tsarnaev. In a 6-3 decision, the Court reversed the judgment of the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the First Circuit, holding that the court improperly vacated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capital sentences.

The Court held that the judge’s conduct of voir dire conformed to its precedents and reversed the First Circuit’s holding that the judge had violated a rule established by that circuit under its supervisor power. The Court held that courts of appeals have no power to circumvent or supplement legal standards established in Supreme Court precedents.

The Court also held that the judge was within his authority to exclude from the penalty trial hearsay evidence of Tsarnaev’s brother’s involvement in an unrelated murder. The Court rejected the argument that the Eighth Amendment requires admission of all mitigating evidence no matter how dubious or how weakly mitigating.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Barrett filed a concurring opinion, in which Gorsuch joined. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Sotomayor and Kagan joined.

Please join our legal expert to discuss the case, the legal issues involved, and the implications going forward.


— Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

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