The rule of law
Boston case belongs in civilian court
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A young man is lying in a hospital in Boston, now formally accused of planting the bombs that killed three and injured more than 180 others at the finish line of last week's Boston Marathon. Federal prosecutors have charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with the bombing, and investigators are reportedly now communicating with the 19-year-old in search of information as to his motivation and connections, if any, to terrorist groups, foreign or domestic.

That news, on top of all we learned over the past several days about the bombing, the investigation, the chase, the death of Tsarnaev's older brother in a confrontation with police and the younger man's arrest, suggest that the American system of justice — local police, state officials, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney — are fully up to the challenge of the investigation and prosecution of this case.

The fact that the events of the last week are particularly dramatic and heinous in no way alters the fact that the civil authority of the United States and its constituent parts has not broken down. The normal criminal justice system is fully competent to handle this case as far as the individual who stands accused of the acts. Any ties to any foreign terrorist organization, if they exist, can and should be traced by our law enforcement and intelligence services.

The knee-jerk calls by some that the case should be shunted off to a military commission, that Tsarnaev should be classified as an "enemy combatant" and that all provisions of constitutional due process should be set aside are no more than expressions of panic and/or partisanship.

The United States has been building its criminal justice system for more than 200 years. It has successfully meted out justice to hundreds of terrorists, from Timothy McVeigh to the "shoe bomber." To abandon that system out of momentary panic would be more destructive to our way of life than anything the Tsarnaev brothers might have contemplated.

Especially in Boston.

That is the city where a young lawyer named John Adams defended the British soldiers accused of killing five Americans in an incident known to history as the Boston Massacre. The trial was held in a local civilian court, and Adams was keen to defend the accused because that is what justice requires, then and now. He convinced a jury to acquit the captain and six of the eight soldiers who were accused and, in later years, recalled his efforts as "one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country."

The people who are in charge of enforcing the laws of the United States today should do no less.