780 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 2015), 15-1170, In re Tsarnaev

Docket Nº:15-1170
Citation:780 F.3d 14
Opinion Judge:Per Curiam.
Party Name:IN RE DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV, Petitioner
Attorney:Judith Mizner, with whom William W. Fick and the Federal Public Defender Office were on brief, for the petitioner. William D. Weinreb, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, Aloke S. Chakravarty and Nadine Pellegrini were on brief, for the respondent.
Judge Panel:Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Howard, Circuit Judges. TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge (Dissenting). TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge (Dissenting).
Case Date:February 27, 2015
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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780 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 2015)



United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 27, 2015

Judith Mizner, with whom William W. Fick and the Federal Public Defender Office were on brief, for the petitioner.

William D. Weinreb, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, Aloke S. Chakravarty and Nadine Pellegrini were on brief, for the respondent.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Howard, Circuit Judges. TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge (Dissenting).


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Per Curiam.

Petitioner Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev asks this court to compel the district court to grant a change of venue because of widespread pretrial publicity that he alleges has so tainted the potential jury pool that he will be unable to receive a trial before a fair and impartial jury in Boston. See generally Second Petition for Writ of Mandamus. We deny the Second Mandamus Petition because petitioner has not met the well-established standards for such relief and so we are forbidden by law from granting it.

The Supreme Court's admonition over a century ago is true today:

The theory of the law is that a juror who has formed an opinion cannot be impartial. Every opinion which he may entertain need not necessarily have that effect. In these days of newspaper enterprise and universal education, every case of public interest is almost, as a matter of necessity, brought to the attention of all the intelligent people in the vicinity, and scarcely any one can be found among those best fitted for jurors who has not read or heard of it, and who has not some impression or some opinion in respect to its merits.

Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 155-56, 25 L.Ed. 244 (1878).

Thus, any high-profile case will receive significant media attention. It is no surprise that people in general, and especially the well-informed, will be aware of it. Knowledge, however, does not equate to disqualifying prejudice. Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process.

Trials have taken place in other high-profile cases in the communities where the

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underlying events occurred. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six and injured over a thousand people and inflicted hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, the six conspirators charged were each tried in the Southern District of New York. The district court denied change-of-venue motions in each case, the first less than a year after the bombing. See United States v. Yousef, No. S12 93-Cr.0180, 1997 WL 411596, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 1997); United States v. Salameh, No. S5 93-Cr.0180, 1993 WL 364486, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 1993) (finding less than a year after the bombing that a jury in New York would be " willing to try this case with an open mind" and able to " render a decision based solely upon the evidence, or lack thereof," even if the jurors had heard of the bombing before). After the conviction in Yousef, the Second Circuit affirmed. United States v. Yousef, 327 F.3d 56, 155 (2d Cir. 2003).

Indeed, after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the prosecution of Zacharias Moussaoui was brought in the Eastern District of Virginia, minutes by car from the Pentagon. The district court denied a change of venue motion, and the Fourth Circuit dismissed Moussaoui's interlocutory appeal. United States v. Moussaoui, 43 F.App'x 612, 613 (4th Cir. 2002).

Further, the events here, like the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the September 11, 2001 attacks, received national and international attention. Petitioner does not deny that a jury anywhere in the country will have been exposed to some level of media attention. Indeed, his own polling data shows that, in his preferred venue, Washington D.C., 96.5% of survey respondents had heard of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

The mandamus relief sought is an extraordinary remedy, rarely granted, and has stringent requirements. To convince an appellate court to intervene is to employ " one of the most potent weapons in the judicial arsenal." Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380, 124 S.Ct. 2576, 159 L.Ed.2d 459 (2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). To compel the district court to change course, a petitioner must show not only that the district court was manifestly wrong, but also that the petitioner's right to relief is clear and indisputable, irreparable harm will result, and the equities favor such drastic relief. Id. at 380-81, 390. In the case before us, we cannot say petitioner has met these onerous standards and so relief must be denied.


Petitioner is charged with multiple crimes arising out of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, killing three and injuring over 200. Some of these crimes potentially carry the death penalty. On June 18, 2014, petitioner filed his first motion to change venue claiming that pretrial publicity and the attendant public attitudes were so hostile and inflammatory that a presumption of prejudice had arisen requiring that he be tried in a different district. On September 24, 2014, the district court denied the motion in a thorough and detailed order. In its order, the court addressed the evidence used by petitioner in support of his motion and, applying the standards set out in Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358, 130 S.Ct. 2896, 177 L.Ed.2d 619 (2010), concluded that petitioner had failed to demonstrate that pretrial publicity rendered it impossible to empanel a fair and impartial jury in the District of Massachusetts. Petitioner did not seek mandamus at the time of the first motion's denial.

On December 1, 2014, petitioner filed a second motion to change venue, arguing that the need for a change of venue had

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become more acute because of continuing prejudicial publicity in the media and alleged leaks of information by government sources. On December 31, 2014, without waiting for the district court's written decision on the second motion, petitioner filed his first mandamus petition with this court. On January 2, 2015, while that petition before us remained under consideration, the district court issued its written decision on the second venue motion, noting that the new motion did not raise any genuinely new issues apart from those in the first motion and concluding that no presumption of prejudice had arisen that would justify a change of venue. On January 3, 2015, this court denied the motion to stay jury selection and the first petition, concluding that petitioner had " not made the extraordinary showing required to justify mandamus relief." In re Tsarnaev, 775 F.3d 457 (1st Cir. 2015).

Jury selection commenced on January 5, 2015, and continues to date. On January 22, 2015, petitioner filed in the district court his third motion to change venue in which he asserted that the detailed and extensive questionnaires completed by the 1,373 prospective jurors comprising the venire, combined with the record of individual voir dire compiled to date, mandated a change of venue because of pervasive bias and prejudgment uncovered during that process. After petitioner filed this Petition, the district court denied the Third Motion for Change of Venue, in part for the reasons set forth in its earlier decisions, and in part because " the voir dire process is successfully identifying potential jurors who are capable of serving as fair and impartial jurors in this case." United States v. Tsarnaev, No. 13-CR-10200-GAO, (D. Mass. Feb. 6, 2015). " In light of that ongoing experience," the district court concluded, " the third motion to change venue has even less, not more, merit than the prior ones." Id. The court further maintained that " [c]oncerns about jurors who have fixed opinions or emotional connections to events, or who are vulnerable to improper influence from media coverage, are legitimate concerns. The [c]ourt and the parties are diligently addressing them through the voir dire process." Id.

This court held a hearing on the Second Petition for Mandamus on February 19, 2015, and allowed supplemental filings.

The Second Petition for Mandamus before us largely makes the same claims and relies on the same types of data as the Third Motion for Change of Venue which the district court denied. Petitioner argues that a presumption of prejudice exists here because aggregated data shows too many in the community and in the jury pool have expressed the opinion he is guilty and that those jurors have been affected by, or have connections to, the crime. He claims the continuing media attention exacerbates these problems. He argues that the judge erred in rejecting his claim that presumed prejudice has been established. From this, he argues, voir dire cannot succeed in finding a fair and impartial jury. This is so, he argues, even if the trial judge after voir dire qualifies a jury after determining the jurors so qualified to be fair and impartial. At this point, the trial judge has not sat a jury, but rather has identified over sixty provisionally qualified jurors who are still subject to peremptory challenges.1 We conclude that petitioner fails to demonstrate a clear and indisputable right to relief.


The writ of mandamus is a " drastic" remedy; given its potential " to spawn

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piecemeal litigation and disrupt the orderly processes of the justice system," mandamus " must be used sparingly and only in extraordinary situations." In re Pearson, 990 F.2d 653, 656 (1st Cir. 1993) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). It is reserved for the " immediate correction of acts or omissions" by the district court " amounting to an usurpation of power." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, " mandamus is generally thought an inappropriate prism through which to inspect exercises of judicial discretion," In re Bushkin Assocs., Inc., 864 F.2d 241, 245 (1st Cir. 1989), and the...

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