Donald Trump’s death penalty tweet ‘could destroy NYC terror case’

Legal experts say the US President’s unprecedented intervention will be used by defence lawyers

Donald Trump surrounded by his cabinet takes a more measured tone than on Twitter
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has insisted that the man suspected of Tuesday’s terror attack in New York should face the death penalty, an unprecedented intervention that some warn could prejudice the trial.

Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant accused of driving his truck through a cycle path, killing eight people, told investigators he began plotting the attack a year ago, inspired by Islamic State videos.

The US President had previously called for Saipov to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, but went one step further last night:

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Legal experts say that Trump’s death penalty tweet “could destroy the legal case against the New York terror suspect”, the The Independent reports.

According to The New York Times, “presidents are typically advised never to weigh in on pending criminal cases because such comments can be used by defence lawyers to argue their clients cannot get a fair trial – especially when the head of the executive branch that will prosecute the charges advocates the ultimate punishment before a judge has heard a single shred of evidence”.

His tweet also raises “troubling questions about the separation of powers and the independence of prosecutors and the federal judiciary”, says The Times.

Much of the debate in the days since the attack has centred on the President’s response, linking the deaths to American immigration policy. Trump has vowed to terminate the visa lottery that helped draw Saipov to the US and branded the justice system a “laughing stock”.

The New York Times says no-one arrested on American soil has ever been sent to Guantanamo Bay and transferring the suspect from New York “would raise a host of thorny constitutional and legal issues”.

Trump has also been criticised by conservative allies for not declaring Saipov an enemy combatant, which would have allowed interrogators more freedom to question him without granting him the rights of a civilian defendant.

Saipov faces two charges: causing the deaths of eight people and providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation.

“Trump just changed the way Presidents talk about terror attacks,” says CNN. But while his venting may be “emotionally satisfying for the President and delight his supporters, it’s not clear it represents a thought-through framework for changes in how the legal war on terrorism is fought”.

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