Saturday, April 27, 2013

Miranda

Here's another example showing that no matter what you do as president, you are always wrong. Namely, the flap over the questioning of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Some liberals are criticizing the administration for delaying 16 hours before advising Tsarnaev of his right to remain silent, allowing the FBI to question him extensively. (Legally speaking, the Justice Department was relying on the public safety exception to the Miranda rule in delaying in advising the suspect of his rights.)  Conservatives are angry that Tsarnaev was advised of his rights at all, and are calling for the administration to strip this suspect of any constitutional rights he has and try him as an enemy combatant in a military tribunal (even though civilian courts seem to have as good or better a record of dispensing justice to terrorism suspects than military courts).

Let's remember that the rule in Miranda is mainly a rule of evidence. What the Supreme Court held in Miranda was that if the police fail to advise a suspect entitled to such treatment of his right to remain silent and his right to counsel, prosecutors may not introduce any subsequent statements by that suspect into evidence. It's a way of enforcing the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination. In practice, the rule serves as a powerful reminder of constitutional rights that every criminal suspect already has, whether he is advised of those rights or not.  But it's not a magic wand that makes suspects stop talking, even thought that appears to have happened in this particular case. In many cases, criminal suspects refuse to talk to the police even before they have been advised of their rights. In many other cases, criminal suspects continue making self-incriminating statements even after they have been told that they have the right to remain silent. In this case, it doesn't seem particularly important to obtaining the conviction of this individual that the prosecutor have the ability to introduce his own statements. There is an abundance of physical evidence that will likely suffice to convict him.

So what is the importance of the timing of reading Tsarvaev his rights? It's an opportunity to score political points, of course. Those who want to fault the Obama administration for continued harsh treatment of detainees have been quick to criticize the 16 hour delay. And those who are trying to make the case that the Obama administration is in league with the terrorists will be satisfied with nothing less than stripping this citizen of all of his constitutional rights, and handing him to a lynch mob, or a torture chamber, or at least to a military tribunal.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a few more people willing to cut the FBI and Justice Department some slack? What about recognizing the hard and efficient work of these trained investigators who cornered these suspects in seemingly record time? Dare I suggest that they struck the balance just right, between recognizing the constitutional rights of a criminal suspect, and protecting the public from potential danger?

1 comment:

  1. "liberals are criticizing the administration for delaying 16 hours before advising Tsarnaev of his right to remain silent, allowing the FBI to question him extensively."

    "Conservatives are angry that Tsarnaev was advised of his rights at all"

    Looked to me like political ideolougues are doing this; then blaming others.

    Other than that, great article!

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