The lawyers contend that prosecutors levied charges for the same actions twice: He was charged for allegedly planting bombs two Chelsea locations and also charged with using a “destructive device” in furtherance of a violent crime. The second charge, they contend, requires a “combination crime”—not merely the actions he was already charged for in the first place. They accused Rahimi of “using a bomb while using a bomb,” argued federal defender Matthew Larsen.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys quibbled over the interpretation of the legal language, but Rahimi’s lawyers said that in the event of legal ambiguity, the most lenient interpretation, for the defendant, must win out.
“Now-Justice Gorsuch made this clear,” said Larsen, who referred to a 2015 opinion Gorsuch wrote on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Gorsuch wrote judges “don’t default to the most severe possible interpretation of the statute but to the rule of lenity” when ambiguity exists.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, argued that the added penalty in crimes like this is what Congress wanted when enacting the law.
His lawyers say the charge is improper because his actions are no different than those in the charges he faces for allegedly planting the bombs, and the added charge requires more.
If convicted on these two charges, Rahimi faces a mandatory minimum of life in prison. If they are dropped and he is convicted on the other counts, however, life in prison becomes his maximum penalty.
Rahimi’s lawyers also fought to keep out a notebook found with him during his arrest, arguing it was more equivalent to a diary entry. Prosecutors, meanwhile have shifted from calling it a journal do you characterizing it as a letter meant to express his intent.
“Whether it is called a notebook or a letter, it’s clear what it is,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Crowley. “It’s the defendant’s claim of responsibility.”
But Shroff, the defense attorney, warned that the trial would drag on for weeks if the notebook is admitted, noting that she’s going to have “a lot of relevancy objections.”
“We’re gonna have a very long trial with many, many sidebars,” she said.
“Well, I’ve got the time, so don’t worry about it,” replied Judge Richard Berman.
Often, in terrorism trials, evidence of support for a terror group is introduced in the form of tweets, public speeches, or other writings by the defendants. Rahimi’s case is unusual in that the defense attorneys argue that the writings were merely meant for his the notebook, and that it’s not even clear when they were produced.
And, though the case is inextricably linked to terrorism in the media, Rahimi is not charged with providing support to a foreign terror group. His lawyers say the journal is irrelevant to the charges he faces. They also also argue the limited charges should also prevent the government from calling experts in terrorism.
The government wants to paint a “gloss of terrorism” on a case that is “volatile enough,” Shroff said.
But prosecutors promised Zelin’s testimony would be “extremely limited,” more akin to factual explanations about individuals mentioned in the notebook that expert opinion.
Berman is expected to announce his rulings Thursday morning. Rahimi’s trial date is set for October.