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April 20, 2013 / Tom Liberman

Miranda Warning Exception – Boston Bomber

Miranda WarningI haven’t written a post about the despicable attack during the Boston Marathon. I honestly don’t think I have anything to add to the conversation but there is an interesting situation arising from that attack that has sparked my desire to speak out.

As most people already know brave law enforcement officers captured one of the two bombers. I can’t bring myself to write “suspects”. They did it. We all know they did it. At the time of the capture the man was unconscious or nearly so and was not read his Miranda Warning. There was some outcry about this although I assumed that it wasn’t given because the bomber was not capable of understanding and, if he recovered, they would proceed with the reading. Apparently I was wrong, or at least the Obama administrations is indicating that I was mistaken. They do not plan on reading said warning because of an exception to the Miranda rule.

The 1984 Supreme Court case leading to the exception can be found here but I’ll quickly summarize. A police officer captured a suspect who had been identified as having a firearm. When searched the weapon wasn’t found. The officer asked the suspect about the location of the gun. The suspect pointed out, with a head nod, where he had thrown the pistol. This was deemed to be a possible violation of his rights as the Miranda Warning was not yet read. The Supreme Court ruled 6 -3 that immediate public safety, the loaded weapon very nearby, was a “narrow” exception to Miranda. Chief Justice Rehnquist authored the opinion and was joined by Burger, White, Blackmun, and Powell, while O’Connor wrote a concurrent opinion and Marshal, Brennan, and Stevens dissented.

The basic idea of the Miranda Warning is an extension of our Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. It cannot be assumed that all citizens have a full understanding of their rights and thus arresting officers are required to give them this brief sketch.

The Obama administration is arguing that the bomber might have information about other bombs and therefore the public safety exception can be invoked. Presumably they would ask about other bombs and then read the Miranda Warning.

I’m extremely skeptical of this logic. Even if we take the Obama administration at face value all they can ask about is other bomb locations not anything else to do with the case. Otherwise it is a clear violation. This is not a police officer asking a quick question at the spur of the moment. This would be days later when the situation had calmed considerably.

By this logic any suspect who may be construed to have planted an explosive device falls into the exception. A suspect who made a threat against a spouse might have planted a car-bomb, who knows? I can see the exception being expanded virtually without limit. There is, I suppose, a possibility that there might be more bombs but the idea that reading the warning would influence whether the bomber admitted their location or not seems far-fetched. If he is remorseful he will give their location whether read the warning or not and vice-versa.

In my opinion this is one of those situation where it is important to uphold the constitution and the court’s interpretation of it. It’s easy to demand rights for people who deserve them. It’s harder to want the constitution to apply to scum like the bomber. It’s easy to want to put a gun to his head and finish this business. I know that’s what I want to do. That’s exactly what they would do in totalitarian countries, in theocratic countries, in nations where a free population is something be feared by the ruling party. It’s not what we do here, and I’m proud of that fact.

We’re free for a reason, it’s called the Constitution. Let’s keep following it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (buy it, read it, review it)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

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