Confusion Regarding The Public Safety Exception To Miranda In The Boston Marathon Bombing Case

by J.D. Garrett on April 21, 2013

With the recent conclusion to the manhunt in Boston, and the capture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the FBI has indicated they will not be advising Tsarnaev of his Miranda Rights, opting to proceed under the “public safety exception” to Miranda. While there may be future legal challenges to this strategy by the prosecution, the information being disseminated about the Miranda Rights and the Exception should be clarified.

To begin with, I heard one commentator on television state that Tsarnaev was not going to be given his Miranda Rights. It may be a minor point, but this Right is given to all U.S. citizens and is recognized in the U.S. Constitution. The Miranda Warnings, however, are the statements read to any criminal suspect by law enforcement, usually contemporaneous with or soon after being taken into custody. Rights can not be given or taken away by anyone; warnings, on the other hand Warnings can be given or not, at the investigator’s discretion.

What are Miranda Warnings?

Miranda Warnings stem from the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona. Ernesto Miranda was arrested for raping two girls. After several hours of intense interrogation, without being advised that not only he did not have to participate, but that he had a right to consult with an attorney, he signed a confession. This confession was used against him at his trial at which he was convicted. His case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who overturned his conviction and the now famous Miranda Warnings were promulgated.

What is the “Public Safety Exception” to Miranda?

The Public Safety Exception to Miranda comes from the 1984 case of New York v. Quarles. Benjamin Quarles (also, coincidentally, a rapist) was apprehended by a New York City police officer who had received a complaint from a woman stating she had been raped by Quarles and that he had a gun. When Quarles was taken into custody, the officer noticed he had an empty gun holster and, before advising him of his Miranda Rights, asked Quarles where was the gun. Quarles indicated where it was and the officer retrieved it. Both the gun and the admission were offered at Quarles’ trial and were excluded pursuant to the Miranda decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court, after New York appealed the state court rulings, carved out the Public Safety Exception. They determined that the officer made an immediate decision to safeguard the public. Quarles presented “a situation where concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda”. The statement and gun were thus permitted in Quarles trial.

In the Boston Marathon Bombing case, unlike most cases that rely on the Quarles decision, the authorities are indicating they intend to wait several days before advising Tsarnaev of his Miranda Rights. Most cases involving the Public Safety Exception have situations of immediate and imminent public safety concerns. At this point, there does not appear to be that level of urgency in the Boston case. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the federal courts and how the Justices interpret the Constitution and apply the Quarles standard.

Isn’t The Arrest Invalid If Miranda Warnings Are Not Read?

No! This is a common misconception. An arrest is valid so long as there exists probable cause for the charge. Miranda Warnings are only required if a defendant’s statements are going to be used at his trial. If investigators and prosecutors believe there is ample evidence to support a conviction without a defendant’s statements, they may proceed to trial. As an example, Miranda was retried for the rape of the two girls and was convicted without the use of his confession.

In regards to the Boston Marathon Bombing case, there is more than likely ample evidence to warrant a trial and support a conviction. Therefore, it really is a moot point if Tsarnaev is advised of his Rights or not.

Questions Regarding Miranda Warnings?

Contact Garrett Law Group, PLC in Virginia Beach. (757) 422-4646. Our criminal defense attorneys are available to answer your questions 24/7/365.

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