Tarek Mehanna's case is up before the First Circuit Court of Appeals today.

This morning, Mehanna's lawyers made oral arguments before the appeals court.

One of their arguments was that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecution to show footage of the September 11 attacks.

Mehanna, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy graduate, was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison. He was convicted in 2012, after prosecutors successfully made the argument that he attended jihadi training camp in Yemen. Prosecutors painted the picture that Mehanna had plans to go to Iraq and fight-- plans which didn't quite work out, which made him come back to the U.S. and disseminate online materials on violent jihad.

How an appeal works

Appeals are different from regular trial cases. A trial case presents evidence, attempting to make the case that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is where the attorneys make their case and factual arguments, showing pictures and getting testimony from witnesses on the stand.

Evidence must build the case. If it's prejudicial (i.e. can hurt the defendant) without offering much probative value, it violates the rules of evidence and a judge can exclude it.

Sometimes, over the attorney's objections, the judge allows evidence into the trial. That is what happened in Mehanna's case.

One of the issues in Tarek Mehanna's appeal is whether the judge was wrong in allowing 9/11 footage to be shown in court, namely, that the footage would cause harm to Mehanna without proving much on his guilt.

The Justice Department claimed that the images showed Mehanna's intent to help Al Qaida.

Mehanna's lawyers could not be reached for comment.


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