A New Day: Public Safety Trumps Miranda Rights


On April 15, 2013 explosive devices planted along the route of the annual Boston Marathon killed three people and horribly injured scores more. Two brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, became suspects in the horrific crime even as a MIT campus police officer was killed and a man was carjacked by the alleged suspects. The timeline from that point forward was as follows:

  • During the carjacking, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan held the owner of the car at gunpoint telling him [w]e just killed a cop. We blew up the marathon. And now we’re going to New York.
  • Shortly after, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a gun battle with police. On Friday, April 19, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was located in a residential backyard and taken into custody where he was treated for wounds at the hospital.
  • On Sunday, Mr. Tsarnaev admitted to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that he and his brother were responsible for the bombings. Only later was Mr. Tsarnaev read his Miranda rights by a magistrate.
  • Mr. Tsarnaev is currently charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death.

Protection against self-incrimination is provided to every suspect taken into custody in the United States in the form of Miranda rights. In the case of imminent concern for public safety, reading of Miranda rights may be delayed. This exception was exercised by the FBI in questioning Mr. Tsarnaev. Use of this exception also raises concern about the protection of constitutional rights in the face of the new day of domestic terrorism.

In an article in the New York Times, American University law professor Stephen Vladeck states [t]his is the paradox of progressive national security law, which is how do you at once advocate for the ability of the civilian courts without accepting that some of that includes compromises that are problematic from a civil liberties perspective?

In this case, the alleged suspects confessed to murder and terrorism to a credible witness prior to any altercation with law enforcement. It remains to be seen how far courts will lean in allowing law enforcement to waive important constitutional rights in the pursuit of criminals and the protection of public safety.

Posted in Constitutional Rights | Tagged Boston marathon bombing, fifth amendment, miranda rights, self-incrimination