On Monday, we discussed that federal agents were well within their rights to refrain from reading the Miranda rights to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the lone surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. Sixteen hours after they began questioning Tsarnaev, a judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered Tsarnaev’s room and read him his Miranda rights. After being advised of his rights, Tsarnaev immediately stopped talking and refused to answer any more questions.
Before being read his rights, Tsarnaev had been cooperative with FBI officials. He answered questions by writing answers or nodding his head, and he began to explain his motive behind the attack. Now it seems the next time Tsarnaev talks, it may be in front of a jury.
The decision to read Tsarnaev his rights has touched off a legal debate between Democrats and Republicans. The general sentiment is that Republicans feel that the Obama administration is going soft on Tsarnaev by reading him his rights, as it was reasonable to believe that the suspect would remain silent after hearing his rights. Others argue that the United States operates as a democratic society because everyone has certain unalienable rights which should not be denied, regardless of the alleged crime.
The Public Safety Exception
The argument in question is over a clause called the “public safety exception” which states the officials can refrain from reading a suspect their Miranda rights if it is “necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat, and that the government’s interest in obtaining this intelligence outweighs the disadvantages of proceeding with unwarned interrogation.”
This passage is intentionally ambiguous so as to leave it open to wide ranging interpretation. It’s possible that authorities felt that they had collected enough information to quell their fears over related radical groups, but most would argue the more Tsarnaev talked, the more we would learn.
All Citizens Have Rights
There has been a lot of debate over Tsarnaev’s rights in wake of the bombings. Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney Avery Appelman said despite his transgressions, Tsarnaev needed to be informed of his rights.
“Tsarnaev is an American citizen, and regardless of his actions, the Constitution offers him certain protections, one being his right to remain silent in the face of police interrogation,” said Appelman. “When Tsarnaev was finally ‘mirandized’ it was by a judge at his initial court appearance, the judge is required to advise those charged with crimes of their rights as their case proceeds forward through the justice system.”
In essence, once the criminal process was initiated by the filing of criminal charges, the judge is duty bound to advise the accused of their rights. Despite having the right to remain silent, Appelman believes it may be in Tsarnaev’s best interest to continue speaking with authorities.
“With all of the evidence obtained through this investigation, the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in a firefight with the police and evidence was collected from Tsarnaev’s home, it would appear that the government has a very strong case against him,” said Appelman. “It may be in his interest to show remorse and cooperate fully with law enforcement, and thereby structure a plea negotiation that saves Tsarnaev from execution.”
Tsarnaev has officially been charged with federal counts of using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property, both which carry the death penalty as the maximum sentence. He was charged as a civilian, despite outside efforts to have him designated an “enemy combatant” which would subject him to fewer freedoms.
Related source: Washington Post