Boston Bombing Suspect Longest Held Without Miranda Rights
Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was held in custody for more than 60 hours before being advised of his Miranda rights. Miranda rights are intended to protect the accused from coercive questions. The Justice Department defended not issuing the Miranda warning by invoking the public safety exception, out of fear that the public was still in danger. With the public safety exception, the government is allowed to question Tsarnaev without giving him his Miranda warnings and still use the statements at his criminal trial.
The “public safety exception” to Miranda warnings has existed since 1984, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in New York v. Quarles that police could question a suspect about possible immediate threats without reading his rights. In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder expanded the exception to include questioning in cases where “the government’s interest in obtaining…intelligence outweighs the disadvantages of proceeding with unwarned interrogation.”
Imminent Threat or Danger to Public Safety
The purpose of the public safety exception is to allow investigators to freely question a suspect to ensure that there is no imminent threat or danger to public safety. Boston officials had locked down the greater Boston area on Friday, April 19 during the manhunt for Tsarnaev and ordered residents to stay indoors as the suspect was believed to be heavily armed and dangerous. By the time Tsarnaev was apprehended late that evening, the order had been revoked. Both Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino assured the public and press that there wasn’t cause for concern about another imminent threat or plot involving other accomplices. However, officials stated that public safety concerns remained, citing a possibility of additional explosive devices or other accomplices.
Sixty hours is by far the longest a suspected terrorist has been in custody without being advised of his Miranda rights. In December, 2009, federal authorities questioned “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes before issuing him a Miranda warning. Authorities also questioned the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, for a short time before reading him his rights.
The decision not to immediately Mirandize Tsarnaev has sparked controversy and debate. Civil rights groups have expressed concern about relying on the exception and the importance of Miranda as a fundamental protection. The decision not to promptly Mirandize the Boston bombing suspect will undoubtedly be questioned by his defense at trial.
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