“Sometimes Congress wants to be sure that a particular term in a statute is understood in a particular way, and it may include a full or partial definition of that term… When Congress provides a specific definition, then that definition is what controls for the purpose of the statute. When Congress does not provide a specific definition to the terms of the statute, the general rule is that words are to be understood in accordance with their ordinary and usual meaning.”
OK… based on the above information which Judge O’Toole gave the jury at trial before they began deliberating Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilt or innocence in the matter of the Boston Marathon bombing, what exactly is the legal definition of a firearm?
At the time I wrote “Playing by the Rules (No More Mr. Nice Guy)” the “usual and ordinary meaning” I assigned to a firearm was that a firearm is a gun while a bomb is a weapon of mass destruction. That is how I understood it. A bomb detonates and can kill or injure many simultaneously; a gun discharges rather than detonates and kills or injures one target at a time.
How would the average person answer this question: What is meant by the phrase “The suspect brandished a firearm?”
A) The suspect waved a gun.
B) The suspect waved a pressure cooker.
C) Both A & B are correct.
If you surveyed twenty people who are not in the legal profession I’ll bet the majority, if not all twenty, would say that “A” is the correct answer to that question. I know I would have.
I have always been a stickler for using precise language and I see it as being of the utmost importance when a person’s life is on the line. However, I now stand corrected by a faithful reader: under the law, a firearm can also be a bomb…
Go figure. Why do people have to make things so hard?
Here’s how the legal definition is written:
US Code – Section 921: Definitions
3) The term “firearm” means
A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer or D) any destructive device.
4) The term “destructive device” means
A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas –
In “Playing by the Rules” I stated my belief that the government purposely worded the thirty-count indictment to confuse the jury. I still believe that. However… now that I realize the jury was given explanation of all the law that applied in this case, including the legal definition of a firearm, I believe the way in which the government confused the jury and stacked the deck in favor of a guilty verdict was this: they simply buried them in too much information.
Reading through Document 1294, the 51-page transcript of jury instructions, I was nearly comatose by the time I reached page 23. I can only imagine how burdensome this was to sit and listen to in the courtroom, not to mention how challenging it was to make any sense of afterwards when deliberations began, led by a former IHOP manager.
I’ve conducted training classes before. If you really want your message to be understood, you have to dumb it down to the level of the least knowledgeable listener. There is no way anyone who was not an attorney, which was everyone on the jury, including Ms. IHOP, could have retained or processed everything Judge O’Toole said.
I doubt he cared.
And not that I think it would have changed the verdict from a biased jury such as this one, but at least O’Toole’s efforts to ensure the jury understood would have had the appearance of sincerity if he had said something like the following regarding the term “firearm.”
“You will have 30 counts to decide. Fifteen of those counts contain the following language: “that the defendant used or carried a firearm.” Immediately after that wording, you will see the exact type of firearm for that count listed in parentheses. Don’t let this confuse you. By legal definition, a firearm can be a gun, a pressure cooker bomb or a pipe bomb. Many of you may have previously believed the term firearm referred exclusively to a gun. A gun is typically said to discharge when it is fired while a bomb is said to detonate when it explodes. These are commonly understood and commonly used terms. However, the indictment is written using the word discharged only. Again, don’t let this confuse you. Refer back to the type of firearm listed in parentheses as you discuss and consider each count.”
If the judge had been at all concerned about the jury getting it right, he could have given each of the jurors a copy of the jury instructions and a highlighter. In fact, I believe they asked for more copies and were told one was sufficient…
I find the indictment problematic. The first defense team stated objections to what they said amounted to multiple counts for the same charge. Yet nothing was changed.
In the end, the defense strategy seemed to rely on an appeal for mercy. The accused never admitted guilt so his attorney did it for him with opening and closing statements that sounded like they were written to be delivered by the prosecution. After hearing them, I can only imagine how little the wording of the indictment mattered when the jury began to deliberate.
Last week I was thrilled to read the latest post on Heather Frizzell’s new blog us-v-tsarnaev.org. We who believe in Dzhokhar’s innocence are blessed to have Heather and her father, who is an attorney, analyzing this case and presenting their findings on her blog.
Many other voices are also speaking out about the Boston Marathon bombing and I am so grateful that they are. Breaking down this case to its simplest arguments and most basic of comparisons is yielding a wealth of information in support of Dzhokhar’s innocence, information that was inexplicably ignored by the defense.
Whether or not I always get it right, I will remain attached to this case. On this point I will never waver: there will be another trial and at the end of it Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be acquitted.
Acquitted: Freed from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty.
Who: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
What: Boston Marathon bombing, death of Sean Collier and all related charges
Why: It wasn’t him