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By Suzanne Ito, ACLU

The next time you sit down to watch your favorite crime show (Law & Order: SVU is mine), think about how often you've heard the words: "You have the right to remain silent…" as the detective/cop whips out the handcuffs and arrests a suspect. That's called the Miranda warning, a requirement enshrined into law by  the 1966 Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona. In that decision, the high court determined that suspects  must be informed of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights "prior to interrogation" if their statements are to be used against them in court.

(Quickie civics lesson: The Fifth Amendment states in part that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," a.k.a. the safeguard against self-incrimination. The Sixth Amendment states in part that the suspect has the right "to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense," a.k.a. the right to a lawyer.)

To be "Mirandized" is to be "read your rights."

The Supreme Court carved out an important exception to the Miranda rule in 1984 in its decision in New York v. Quarles. That decision concluded that if there's an imminent threat to public safety, the suspect can be questioned before he's read his rights and his statements can still be used against him.

Flash-forward to Christmas Day 2009. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is caught on a Detroit-bound plane with explosives in his underwear, intent on blowing up the plane. He's arrested, cooperates with questioning under the public safety exception, and is then Mirandized 50 minutes later.

Flash-forward again to a few weeks ago, when Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen, is arrested for trying to bomb Times Square with a car full of explosives. Shahzad also cooperated with interrogators as he was questioned under the public safety exception; he too was later Mirandized.

So these two cases are very similar: both are suspected of terrorist acts, both are caught, questioned, and Mirandized, and most crucially, both cooperate with law enforcement authorities both before and after they were read their Miranda rights.

Which is why it's completely befuddling that some politicians have used these attempted terrorist attacks to propose that we completely change the way we enforce the rule of law. Some have charged that it was mistake to Mirandize both Abdulmutallab and Shahzad, that they should have been interrogated more—some have even implied tortured—before they were read their rights. The Obama administration has caved to this naked fear-mongering: Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that the administration wants to "modernize" and "clarify" the public safety exception in terrorism cases.

Well, we and a whole slew of other groups think changes to Miranda are both threatening to our criminal justice system and entirely unnecessary. So on Monday, we sent a letter to Holder asking him to leave Miranda alone. And we're not the only ones who think this is a bad idea: three former FBI agents also sent a letter to Holder, writing:

As professional interrogators who have spent decades questioning accused criminals — including spies and terrorists — we are writing to make clear that interrogators can do their job using the existing Miranda rules. No changes are necessary. In fact, changes might do more harm than good.

You can join us: send a message to the attorney general telling him to leave perfectly good alone. Tell him to keep his hands off Miranda!

Originally posted to ACLU on Wed May 19, 2010 at 12:34 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    Because freedom can't protect itself.

    by ACLU on Wed May 19, 2010 at 12:34:41 PM PDT

  •  Clarification can be a good thing. (0+ / 0-)

    Under current precedent, a less than scrupulous person can really abuse the exception.  Maybe this is what it will take to actually codify this.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Wed May 19, 2010 at 12:44:05 PM PDT

  •  Military and intelligence worldview, (0+ / 0-)

    versus criminal prosecution.

    This seems like an attempt to give the militarized view a head start.

    The FBI really does not like that, because fruit of the poisoned tree, at the start, can destroy the possibility of criminal prosecution. The High Value Detainee Interrogation Group has FBI at the top for very good reason.

    Access to a lawyer is underemphasized in importance. We mostly talk right to remain silent.

    Yesterday's "Order For Medical Attention", for Faisal Shahzad, after he finally got a lawyer, (we don't know the reasons or details), is suggestive of why a lawyer is important, under militarized interrogation or not.

  •  OK, I'll bite (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    as a person with zilch experience in the legal system,
    why is the exclusion of Miranda considered necessary?
    The suspect might get a just and fair hearing in the
    court system?  

  •  Miranda is part of the culture, thanks to (0+ / 0-)

    police shows. Almost everyone can quote at least a reasonable paraphrase, even foreigners exposed to American TV shows. Trying to avoid saying the words to terror suspects just seems silly.

    "They paved paradise, and put in a parking lot."
    "...Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"
    - Joni Mitchell

    by davewill on Wed May 19, 2010 at 02:43:25 PM PDT

  •  Are You Implying That Eric Holder Is... (0+ / 0-)

    a politician?  I hope not!

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