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Mirandizing the Bomber

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James Oliphant and David Savage cover the Shahzad/Miranda controversy for the LAT:

A senior FBI official said Wednesday that the agents talked to Shahzad for about three or four hours under the [public safety] exception beginning late Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday. They then decided to read him his Miranda rights. At that point, the officials said, Shahzad continued to talk despite the warning.

The source, who asked not to be identified because the case is still active, added, "You have to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Have you accomplished the public safety component? And you also have to make determinations on whether he's talking or not talking. So there is no hard-and-fast rule. But it has to be reasonable. You can't utilize it indefinitely.''

Still, investigators were not compelled to read Shahzad his rights.

"Miranda is not a constitutional requirement, like giving someone a lawyer," said Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former federal judge. "People who grew up watching cop shows on TV think it is more than that, but it's not."

The Supreme Court held in 2004 that law enforcement officers are not constitutionally required to issue Miranda warnings. The risk, however, is that incriminating statements, such as a confession, are not later admissible, potentially weakening the government's case.

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A three-hour interrogation with experienced interrogators falls under the "public safety exception" in Quarles? Quarles, it must not be forgotten, involved an arrest of a man who had just shed his weapon and the cop asking the arrestee "Where's the gun?". That's a far cry from hours long interrogations in the station. The Quarles Court focused on the "spontaneity" of the questioning, its immediacy and the conduct of the interrogation away from the stationhouse.

I think Miranda was wrongly decided, but this crowd doesn't, and this crowd loves to crow about its commitment to the rule of law. These hours-long, non-spontaneous stationhouse interrogations do not comply with Quarles. Quarles does not stand for the proposition that any questioning with a public safety purpose is ok. It stands for the proposition that law enforcement, sensing an immediate threat in a fluid situation should not be put in the position of having to worry about balancing the need to put a stop to immediate danger and the admissibility of evidence. That a three-hour stationhouse interrogation ain't what Quarles remotely contemplated should be obvious to anyone. I guess Eric Holder missed that day of law school.

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