The Associated Press reports this today about the condition of the sole-surviving criminal suspect in the bombing of the Boston Marathon: “19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was in serious condition at the same hospital after his capture Friday night. The FBI has not allowed hospital officials to say any more about his wounds or condition.”
The Constitution of the United States creates clear terms for when habeas corpus may be suspended by the federal government: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”
Now, I’m not a lawyer, but it seems fairly clear to me that habeas corpus rights include not only the right to know that a person is being kept prisoner, and on what criminal charges, but also the physical condition of the prisoner – that the prisoner is safe and being cared for in a reasonable manner.
The bombing of the Boston Marathon was certainly a heinous crime, but there is no constitutional waiver of habeas corpus rights for people accused of heinous crimes. The constitutional exception for habeas corpus exists only when there is a rebellion or invasion – and a single bombing constitutes neither a rebellion nor an invasion.
The truth is that none of us really know whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was really part of the bombing of the Boston Marathon. There seems to be a great deal of evidence that he was, but then again, that evidence has not yet been fully examined in a fair and impartial court, and it hasn’t been balanced with contradicting evidence brought to bear by Tsarnaev or anyone aligned with him. What we know is partial, and may be flawed.
One way in which our judgment of Tsarnaev may be flawed right now is in the simple fact that so many Americans are feeling relief and gratitude that someone who appears to be responsible for the marathon bombing has been captured. Our very desire for that capture to take place may be contributing to a hasty judgment of Tsarnaev’s guilt.
In circumstances such as these, it becomes even more important that basic constitutional rights such as habeas corpus be respected. If we ignore habeas corpus, and allow the FBI or other parts of the federal government to hide the medical condition of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we set a precedent, and create an expectation that, whenever there is enough uproar about a crime, the rules of justice can be set aside. Doing so creates a greater likelihood that the rules will be set aside when innocent people are accused of terrible crimes.
I am not intending to argue that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is innocent of the crimes with which he has been charged. My intention, rather, is to argue that the American system of justice be allowed to work as it is intended, and consider Dzhokhar Tsarnaev innocent until proven guilty.