Budget Cuts Could Delay 'Boston Bomber' Trial

Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be furloughed, delaying his trial

ByABC News
April 24, 2013, 5:58 PM

April 25, 2013— -- Defense lawyers for suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be "severely affected" by federal budget cuts, resulting in potentially lengthy delays to his eventual trial, said federal court officials.

Tsarneav, 19, who faces the death penalty on charges of detonating a weapon of mass destruction, will be represented by a team of attorneys from the federal public defender office in Boston.

Lawyers from that office will likely be furloughed in the weeks ahead, a result of across-the-board spending cuts to federal agencies, including a $350 million hit to the nation's courts, as part of the so-called sequester.

Though both the public defender and U.S. attorney prosecuting the case are federal employees, only the defense lawyers will be subject to furloughs, according to officials.

That difference, has some lawyers who work in public defense calling foul.

"It's about fairness and equality," said Ed Burnette, vice president of defender legal services at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. "The federal government is making a judgment and making a statement, telling everyone involved that the prosecution is more important than the defendant's constitutional rights."

While court officials throughout Massachusetts have been warned of upcoming cuts and furloughs, the Federal Defender office "is severely affected," Patti B. Saris, the chief judge for the United States District Court of Massachusetts, said in a statement released earlier this month prior to the April 15 bombings.

Court officials in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts confirmed to ABC News that planned furloughs for that office have not changed as a result of last week's bombing.

Lawyers will be expected to take off 15 unpaid days from work, according to a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

"Employees who are furloughed will be out of the office on alternate Fridays and on many Mondays," Saris said in her statement.

"No one knows exactly how it will affect things," said a federal court official. "Hopefully, criminal trials will not be affected, but there will almost certainly be delays."

Tsarnaev is not the only terror suspect whose trial may be delayed by the sequester. The New York trial for Osama bin Laden's son-in-law was pushed from September to early 2014 as a result of the budget cuts and furloughs.

"[The sequester] is going to have negative impact, particularly on timing," said Burnette. "It will mean more delays and more continuances. There will be fewer hours to work, and it will take more time to do all the work."

Tsarnaev's legal team is expected to grow under a federal law that ensures defendants accused of capital crimes are represented by lawyers with death penalty experience.

Unlike the public defenders who are funded through the U.S. Courts, the U.S. Attorneys who will prosecute Tsarnaev are funded by the Department of Justice, which will not be subject to sequester or have to furlough attorneys.

"I am able to announce that the Department will not need to furlough any employees this fiscal year due to sequestration," Attorney General Eric Holder told employees Wednesday in a letter obtained by ABC News.

The charges against him are also expected to increase, following an upcoming grand jury trial.

Tsarnaev is accused of killing four people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounding at least 200 people, in a bombing attack at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent shooting of a police officer.

The public defender office in Boston did not return calls for comment.