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Why trial for Boston bomb suspect could be at least a year away (+video)

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But once those steps are accomplished, the process will begin to slow down.

The Department of Justice has to decide if it will seek the death penalty in connection with the charges, which include using a weapon of mass destruction, resulting in deaths and injuries.

“There is a whole chain-of-command process that must be completed before you can even make a deal [plea bargain],” says Joshua Dratel of Dratel & Mysliwiec in New York and a leading defense lawyer in terrorism cases. “It is the only true non-rubber-stamp process in the criminal justice system.”

The first element in the process would be a recommendation from the district prosecutor, in this case the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz. Once the Boston office sends in its recommendation about the death penalty, the case would be forwarded to a Justice Department committee, which would read the file and then make its own recommendation.

Once the case gets to the Justice Department committee, the defense would have an opportunity to go to Washington and meet with committee members to present mitigating circumstances. “If there is any doubt, you go and make the pitch,” Mr. Dratel says. “You have only one shot.”

Once the committee makes its recommendation, the case then goes to the US attorney general, in this case Eric Holder.

“The whole process takes six months to a year,” Dratel says.

As part of the process, a judge appoints for the defense a “learned counsel,” who has experience in death-penalty cases, as well several other attorneys. On Tuesday, Miriam Conrad of the Federal Public Defender Office, asked the judge, Marianne Bowler, to appoint two lawyers who are specialists in the death penalty.

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