Holmes and Tsarnaev – revisiting due process

Watch the comments to any article detailing the trials of James Holmes — the accused in the Aurora theatre shooting — and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — convicted for the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. You will see some rather disgusting statements that pretty much boil down to “Why aren’t they dead yet?” In short, I think most have forgotten that in the United States we don’t execute the “obviously” guilty without trial.

Another thing often forgotten: due process.

Stemming from the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Constitution of the United States requires that any person who is accused of a crime have a day in Court — even the “obviously” guilty Tsarnaev and Holmes. It is rather sickening how easily others are willing to completely abrogate due process rights… for people other than themselves. Numerous times, in the case of both Holmes and Tsarnaev, many have said the equivalent of “Don’t waste taxpayer money on a trial. Just take ’em out back and shoot ’em now.”


I’ve made it no secret that I defend due process and the right to a trial by jury, even for those many seem to believe don’t “deserve” it, as if your due process rights are earned or abrogated by your actions. Due process is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and must be provided to everyone. But due process can be problematic, which is why I feel it is coming under attack. After all it is due process that led to the high-profile acquittals of OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman.

And many seemed to fear the prospect that Tsarnaev or Holmes would walk. So they demand that we avoid that possibility by… executing them without trial. On Yahoo! I said this to someone advocating exactly that:

So if you were to get a speeding ticket, we should just lock you in jail rather than giving you the chance to plead on it? The interesting thing about rights is how willing people are to throw them aside for *someone else* but still demand them for themselves. Either we all have the right to due process, including Holmes, or none of us do. Which would you have?

Some months later, to another article on Tsarnaev, I wrote this:

Another article about Tsarnaev, and once again, people are willing to just throw their own rights out the window. If you’re so willing to just ignore Tsarnaev’s rights, why do your rights deserve any protection? If you want your rights protected, you must be willing to protect his, meaning if you take seriously this whole idea of executing him without trial and executing his family and acquaintances without trial, then should the same apply to you, regardless of whether you are actually provably guilty of anything?

The assertion that Tsarnaev is “obviously guilty” does not nullify his right to due process, yet many assert such should be the case. The assertion that Holmes is also “obviously guilty” does not nullify his right to due process either, yet, again, many assert such. In instances like these, it is rather disgusting how easily many enter the mob mentality, the “torches and pitchforks” mindset.

And the fact that individuals many have asserted are “obviously guilty” have walked out of Court acquitted on charges has led many to attack due process and the jury system, and assert that there exist situations in which the system should be bypassed.

Let’s make this clear. Even the “obviously guilty” enjoy the right to be presumed innocent. They enjoy the right of due process, to have the accusation against them and the supporting evidence heard in a Court of Law by an impartial jury. To so easily abrogate such rights for others, for the “obviously guilty”, is to jeopardize that right for everyone.

If you are unwilling to defend those rights for those who you feel don’t deserve them, then you don’t deserve those rights either.