Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

In an unanticipated turn of events, the U.S. federal government is seeking the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of the duo responsible for the Boston marathon bombing last April. Mr. Tsarnaev undoubtedly deserves the harshest punishment the United States can provide, but questions remain as to whether the United States should use capital punishment in this instance. Just 58 countries in the world permit the death penalty, while 140 have abolished it, including most countries in Europe. The death penalty is legal in 32 U.S. states, some of which implement it regularly, but the federal government has very rarely executed people in recent years. From March 1963 to June of 2001, the federal government did not execute a single person, and only three have occurred since then, the most recent in 2003. Why now does the government seek the death penalty? Is it appropriate to do so when so many states across the country do not allow the death penalty?

Mr. Tsarnaev is a terrorist, and the U.S. does have special policies regarding the treatment of terrorists. Still, I think that this is not the time to revive the practice of executing people on the order of the federal government. The U.S. has come under much scrutiny in recent years for its treatment of prisoners, particularly those residing at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Given that many consider the death penalty to be a violation of human rights, seeking the to execute Mr. Tsarnaev would not incur a positive reaction on the international stage, and given that the death penalty is illegal in Massachusetts, the state in which the attacks last April occurred, many of those most affected might not approve of the use of the death penalty. If Mr. Tsarnaev receives a sentence of life in prison without parole, as he undoubtedly will if convicted, justice will still be served without further upsetting those traumatized by the events of that tragic day.

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