Criminal Law News - U.S. First Circuit
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The trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, better known as one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends, began earlier this month, and a mere two weeks later, the jury has deliberated and found him guilty.

Let's take a closer look at the details surround the criminal trial.

Rolando Rojas was convicted of distributing cocaine, in violation of federal law, to undercover agent Wing Chau, on three different occasions from January 2011 to March 2011. During the course of the investigation, some of the phone calls were recorded, and meetings were video/audio recorded.

Though the prosecution seemed to have enough evidence for a conviction, it made two errors during closing arguments that could affect the outcome of the trial. Did the First Circuit think so? Let's see.

By now, you know the drill when it comes to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother accused of orchestrating the Boston Marathon bombings. In the past year, the prosecution has been building its case alleging 30 charges against Tsarnaev, some of which may carry the death penalty.

Tsarnaev's trial is scheduled for November 3, 2014, but today, the first case against one of Tsarnaev's friends -- Azamat Tazhayakov began. Here's a brief review of today's court proceedings.

With trial set for November, we've seen many motions and maneuverings by trial attorneys in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (a/k/a Boston Bomber) case. In just the past year, we've seen Tsarnaev decide to plead not guilty, and the prosecution showed its hand when it filed its notice to seek the death penalty.

Trying to determine the likelihood of obtaining the death penalty in the event that Tsarnaev is found guilty, the prosecution has also asked whether the defense has any intention of submitting expert testimony related to mental capacity -- that is, whether Tsarnaev would plead mental insanity.

Just last week, with Wednesday deadlines looming, we saw more pre-trial rulings.

In 2013, news of a scandal broke in Massachusetts that called into question the veracity of over 40,000 criminal drug cases, reports Al Jazeera. Annie Dookhan, a chemist in a state laboratory, was responsible for processing evidence in drug cases, such as testing for cocaine and heroin, and weighing substances.

Officials later learned that she had fabricated her credentials, contaminated samples, and dry-labbed -- eyeballing evidence rather than actually testing it to determine its contents. The scandal resulted in many convictions and sentences being appealed, and earlier this month, the First Circuit had occasion to hear the first appeal stemming from, as Judge Selya calls it, Dookhan's "skullduggery."

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It seems the federal judiciary has a case of summeritis, as we're not seeing that many ground- breaking cases being decided lately. We'll blame it on the snowy winter.

That said, there are new developments in the traffic stop video taping case, and the First Circuit breathed new life into quid pro quo sexual harassment. And while those cases were decided, we're still waiting to see how the court will rule on an extradition case.

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Tomorrow marks the passing of one-year after the disturbing attack on runners and attendees of the Boston Marathon, allegedly carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers. One year later, and we are closer to trial, yet there may still be delays.

Attempts at finding out exactly what is happening in the case against the only surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are difficult at best to confirm because of the secrecy surrounding the trial. One look at the Public Access to Court Electronic Records database shows listing upon listing of sealed motions, with some of the court's orders inaccessible as well.

The First Circuit made headlines at the end of last week with news regarding two notorious Massachusetts convicted criminals, Gary Lee Sampson and Tarek Mehanna.

New Death Penalty Hearing

Gary Lee Sampson pleaded guilty to carjacking and killing three people, and a jury sentenced him to death in 2003, reports The Boston Globe. District court Judge Wolf vacated his sentence after he learned that "one of the jurors lied about her family's history with drugs and law enforcement," noting that "he would have excluded her if he had known," according to The Boston Globe.

On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed his decision.

The United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island vacated the conviction of Charles Moreau, former mayor of Central Falls, a financially troubled Rhode Island city. On Friday, the ex-Mayor walked out of prison after serving about half of his two-year prison term, reports the Associated Press.

Illegal Gratuities?

In 2012 Moreau pleaded guilty to illegally accepting gratuities in violation of 18 U.S.C. 666, and was sentenced to two-years' imprisonment on February 12, 2013. While serving his sentence, the First Circuit Court of Appeals decided an unrelated case, United States v. Fernandez, and held that 18 U.S.C. 666 did not apply to the receipt of gratuities because, unlike quid pro quo, gratuities are "merely a reward for some future act ... or for a past act that he has already taken."

The First Circuit has been making national headlines for the past year, as all eyes wanted to see the fate of Whitey Bulger. Now, an equally (if not more) gripping case is progressing through the First Circuit -- the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a/k/a the surviving accused Boston Marathon bomber.

As we give you an update on this case, we also explain that the Supreme Court recently granted cert in an unrelated criminal case that could have far-reaching effects on our Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure.