How the Federal Government Charged Dzhokar Tsarnaev with Using a “Weapon of Mass Destruction”

The federal government has filed a formal criminal complaint against accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev.  One of the charges is “Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction.”  This may seem odd at first.  Yes,  federal prosecutors did charge a jealous housewife with violating the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act for trying to poison her husband’s lover, but most think of “weapons of mass destruction” as biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, and the Tsarnaevs’ bombs were nothing of the sort.  So what gives?

Tsarnaev is charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction” under 18 USC § 2332a, which defines “weapon of mass destruction” to include “any destructive device” under 18 USC § 921. This latter provision defines “destructive device” quite expansively to include any sort of explosive or incendiary device. The Tsarnaev’s pressure-cooker-contraptions may have been unorthodox or unsophisticated, but they certainly qualify. Further, because Tsarnaev is being charged of federal crimes, he could be eligible for the death penalty, even though there is no capital punishment in Massachusetts.

Ken White at Popehat has more on the complaint here.