Sunday, May 16, 2010

AG Holder Seeks Miranda Exception for Terrorists

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the Obama Administration's intention to ask Congress to create an exception to the Miranda rights warning for terrorists. Miranda forbids prosecutors from using statements made to police before suspects have been warned that they have a right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer.

The instructions were named for Ernesto Miranda who, in 1963, was arrested for robbery. While in the midst of a custodial interrogation by police he confessed to raping an 18 year-old woman. At trial, prosecutors offered his confession into evidence. Miranda was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. Miranda appealed and his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miranda and suppressed his confession. In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1996), the court imposed the following procedures to safeguard a suspect’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination: the person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

In two recent terrorist attempts in the U.S., Detroit and New York City,the administration relied on an existing exception to Miranda for immediate threats to public safety. That exception was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984). According to the Supreme Court, Miranda warnings did not need to be administered when there was an imminent threat to public safety. Anything a person said, self-incriminating or not, could be used by the police to prevent further crimes or violations of the law where it is within the authority of the police to intervene, whether or not that intervention violates the interest of the person from whom the police obtained the information.

Attorney General Holder contends that the imminent threat exception doesn't go far enough. According to the New York Times, Holder defended the legality of the delays in the Detroit and New York City cases, noting that the Supreme Court had set no time limit for use of the public-safety exception. He also indicated uneasiness about the executive branch unilaterally pushing those limits, and called for Congressional action to allow lengthier interrogations without Miranda warnings in international terrorism cases.

“If we are going to have a system that is capable of dealing in a public safety context with this new threat, I think we have to give serious consideration to at least modifying that public safety exception,” Holder, quoted in the Times, said, “And that’s one of the things that I think we’re going to be reaching out to Congress to do: to come up with a proposal that is both constitutional but that is also relevant to our time and the threat that we now face."

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