Can individuals who don’t actually commit a criminal act be sentenced to prison for helping to cover up evidence when a crime is committed? The answer to this question is a resounding yes. If you help a friend after-the-fact or obstruct a police investigation, you can face serious criminal charges. Three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the bomber of the Boston Marathon, discovered this the hard way when they were sentenced to years of imprisonment for not providing truthful information when questioned by law enforcement and for removing evidence from a dorm room.
This high-profile case not only shows the risks of becoming involved in any way with a criminal act, but also demonstrates that sometimes harsh sentences may be handed down based on the emotional nature of a particular case. While many people who are accused of obstructing an investigation or removing evidence from a crime scene end up facing only probation, the friends of the Boston bomber are going to prison- even one who had the support of a former Massachusetts’ governor.
If you are accused of helping someone to hide evidence or of refusal to cooperate with the police, you need to understand what your rights are and you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to provide you with assistance as you try to avoid being convicted of a crime.
Friends of the Boston Bomber Sentenced to Prison
Azamat Tazhayakov is just 21-years-old but was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for the charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Tazhayakov was friends with Tsarnaev and he and another friend agreed to remove Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. The backpack had contained fireworks that had been emptied of explosive powder.
Tazhayakov’s sentencing followed a sentencing hearing held earlier in the same week in which the fate of Dias Kadyrbayev was determined. Kadyrbayev had been charged with taking Tsarnaev’s laptop and with taking Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room and throwing it into a trash bin. Kadyrbayev was sentenced to six years of imprisonment for this action. Tazhayakov’s conspiracy charge was for agreeing with Kadyrbayev to remove the backback.
Another 21-year-old friend of Tsarnaev also was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. Robel Phillipos was accused of lying to the FBI about being in Tsarnaev’s dorm room the day after the marathon was bombed. The judge indicated that Phillipos was responsible for a “substantial diversion” of the resources of law enforcement officers, and the judge went on to comment that there was a “price to be paid for the failure of responsibility.”
Phillipos was considered by many to be the least culpable of all of Tsarnaev’s friends accused of covering up evidence in the aftermath of the bombing. He was accused of telling nine separate lies to the FBI, but was acquitted of telling four of the lies including claims that he didn’t see fireworks and didn’t see Tsarnaev’s backpack being moved.
Phillipos’ attorneys had been arguing for a sentence of two years of home confinement. Former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis wrote a letter asking for leniency for Phillipos, asserting that he “can’t understand why justice would be served by incarcerating him.” Phillipos is appealing the sentence against him, and may seek a stay to avoid imprisonment while his appeal is pending.
These harsh sentences are likely partially the result of the publicity surrounding the Boston bombing case, coupled with the fact that the bombing is viewed by law enforcement and the public as such a grievous crime. Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death for his role in the bombing.
Those who are accused of obstruction of justice, lying to the police, or obstructing an investigation need to understand that there are very real risks. Unlike when you are being investigated and are permitted not to incriminate yourself, there are no Constitutional protections that allow you to refuse to incriminate a friend. You need to get help from an experienced defense lawyer whenever you are being questioned by the police and any time you are charged with participation in any crime.