Following the arrest of the surviving Boston Marathon suspect, Boston officials announced that the suspect did not immediately receive the standard Miranda warnings. This of course created a large debate on twitter and on news outlets with many Americans wondering what implications this could have on the prosecution of the suspect. Now this is kind of a moot point because more recent reports have indicated that the Miranda warnings were eventually given to the suspect. I am guessing that occurred after he was formerly charged in his hospital room. But let’s just say that he made a few incriminating statements before receiving the warnings, here is a breakdown on what implications it could have during trial.
First let me start by saying that Miranda warnings are not just that catchy phrase that cops on procedural crime shows say in the last ten minutes that of the show after catching the bad guy. I saw several “twitter attorneys” arguing that Miranda warnings are just symbolic, not true. The Miranda warnings have real implications in our legal system and serve to advise an arrestee of their constitutional rights, including the right not to self incriminate and the right to an attorney. If you have ever wondered how a failure to apprise an arrestee of their rights could impact a trial, you can look no further than Ernesto Miranda’s case, the namesake for the Miranda warnings. Miranda was a rapist whose confession was thrown out because he was not made aware of his rights. With the confession now deemed unconstitutional, the state of Arizona was forced to retry Miranda. The state convicted him again during the second trial without the confession. Their failure to inform Ernesto Miranda of his rights before interrogating him had real serious implications and ultimately could have resulted in a rapist going free.
Another point about Miranda rights worth noting is something we in the legal world call the fruit of the poisonous tree. Essentially if the source of the information was received by unconstitutional means then any and everything that this information led to will also be excluded. An example would be if the hospitalized suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing gave a full confession and stated where the police could find more undetonated bombs around Boston all without receiving a Miranda warning first, then the confession and any discussion of the other bombs could not be used in court. Failure to give this warnings could lead to an the exclusion of viable evidence beyond just a confession.
So how does this all apply in this case? Many assume that the police have more than enough evidence to convict without a confession. The footage from surveillance cameras for example seems to be solid evidence for the prosecution. As the Miranda warnings states, this information can and will be used against you in court. If the prosecutors decide not to use the information obtained prior to the warnings at all, then there really won’t be an issue. Although the information may not be necessary for the prosecution, it could be valuable information to prevent future terrorists attacks as well as determining a connection between the two brothers and a larger terrorist organization abroad.
During the press conference federal prosecutors cited an exception to the Miranda rights rule called public safety exception. Now in my opinion the officials seemed to contradict themselves during this press conference. First they assured Bostonians that there were no more threats to their safety but then cited a public safety exception. Which one is it? On top of that a quick reading of the New York v. Quarles case, the source for the public safety exception raises more concerns. Frankly the Quarles case does not fit with the Boston situation! In this case an officer approaches an assailant who matched a description he received. After frisking the assailant he realized that he had an empty holster and asked where was the gun, all before giving him his Miranda rights. The Supreme Court decided that there was a clear threat to public safety and allowed this exception. The sense of imminent danger we see in the Quarles case was not present here. The suspect was now in police custody and officials stated that all threats were gone.
Although I do not think the current exception fits, I also do not see a court not carving out an exception for a terrorist case. Maybe the federal prosecutors will argue a wider threat to public safety because of their potential connection to other terrorists. ]Whether we agree with it or not laws such as the Patriot Act have enabled law enforcement to use means that normally would be unavailable to them to combat terrorism. I would be shocked if an American court did not allow the use of this exception even though as it stands today it does not work with the previous case. Overall it seems that the Miranda rights issue will not pose an issue for the prosecution in pursuing this case but I do look forward to how the defense attorneys will try to make this an issue.