Our chapter on federalism includes an extensive discussion of crime. Stateline reports:
Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces federal charges that carry the death penalty, a punishment that does not exist in Massachusetts since the state repealed it in the 1980s.
So far, no Massachusetts authorities have publicly objected to a potential death sentence, but the case does raise federalism questions, said Doug Berman, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University and the editor of the blog, Sentencing Law and Policy.
There is an understanding that federal authorities should be cautious before pursuing the death penalty in a non-death penalty state, said Berman. “But it’s well established that the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are separate sovereigns and each side has the right to vindicate its interest,” he said.
Tsarnaev was charged by a federal court, but he could still face charges in state court for a number of state crimes, including the murder of MIT security officer Sean Collier, kidnapping and carjacking of a man from a convenience store in the Boston suburb of Allston, and other serious state crimes.
Pursuing the federal death penalty in a non-death penalty state has aroused conflict before. Just last year, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee argued all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the federal government from taking over the murder case against Jason Wayne Pleau because the federal prosecutor had said he would pursue the death penalty. Rhode Island has not had the death penalty since 1984, and before that, the state had not executed anyone in 99 years. Ultimately, the Supreme Court rejected the case and Chafee was forced to hand over Pleau to federal authorities. Pleau’s federal trial for robbing and killing a gas station manager is ongoing.