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Feds Could Seek Death Despite Mass. Ban

Publication Date: 
April 24, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle
Bob Egelko

 Professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Egelko about the likelihood of the alleged Boston bomber facing the death penalty under federal law even though Massachusetts state law has banned the death penalty.

Massachusetts hasn't had the death penalty since 1984, when a voter-approved law was overturned by a state court. Its last executions were in 1947. The last time a death penalty bill reached the State House floor, in 2007, it was rejected on a 46-110 vote.

Yet a jury of Massachusetts residents could cast life-or-death votes on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber, in a trial several years from now, if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder approves capital charges under the federal government's wide-ranging death penalty law.


"If this falls within a legitimate federal statute, the position of state officials is completely irrelevant," said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor who specializes in criminal law. "The fact that the state doesn't have the death penalty is completely irrelevant."