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For feds, there is more at stake in Tsarnaev case than just losing

In your Sept. 29 editorial “Holder shouldn’t seek death for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” you are operating under a fundamental misconception when you state that since “the evidence against [Dzhokhar] Tsarnaev is overwhelming, . . . prosecutors should have nothing to fear from bringing the case to trial.” You cite this as a reason why the feds do not need the threat of death hanging over the alleged Boston Marathon bomber’s head.

More and more in recent decades, a major reason for federal prosecutors to want to avoid trials is not just to eliminate the risk of their losing, but, rather, as we learned recently from the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, to avoid having the public learn some of the secrets of how federal agents and prosecutors have operated of late.

The danger of having more federal criminal jury trials is not that the government might lose verdicts, but, rather, that casting daylight on increasingly corrupt and unlawful federal tactics risks a loss of public confidence in the federal criminal justice system. Those of us who have dealt with the Department of Justice and the FBI and other agencies in recent years, especially in what might be dubbed the age of terror, harbor few remaining illusions.


Harvey Silverglate

The writer is a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer.