I’ve been debating on Facebook with several people whose views I respect about the decision by law-enforcement officials to invoke the “public safety” exception and question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without first reading him his Miranda rights.
I think it was the right call. The idea behind the public-safety exception is that the investigation must take precedence over the prosecution — that the paramount interest is to obtain any information that could protect the public. Consider:
- There have been reports that the Tsarnaev brothers may have planted other bombs. Pete Williams of NBC News reported that police detonated an IED near the Berklee College of Music on Friday morning. Are there more? Where?
- The Tsarnaev brothers may not have acted alone. Last night, police took into custody three people in New Bedford to question them about their possible ties to the surviving brother. Was the Boston Marathon bombing part of a larger plot?
- We need to know what if any ties the Tsarnaevs might have had to foreign extremist organizations. We know that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had spent quite a bit of time overseas. The New Yorker’s David Remnick paints a chilling portrait of both brothers, and of Tamerlan in particular.
Despite all this, Emily Bazelon of Slate writes that even though she supports the public-safety exception, she opposes it in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Her argument is inconsistent and illogical. If it’s all right to use it in investigating a major terrorist attack, and we just experienced a major terrorist attack, then what is the issue exactly?
Now, I’m not going all Dick Cheney here. If Tsarnaev’s lawyer argues later that his client’s non-Miranda-ized statements shouldn’t be used against him at trial, I will probably find myself in agreement. In any case, Tsarnaev could likely be convicted solely on the basis of the physical evidence.
But the whole purpose of the public-safety exception is to keep Tsarnaev talking and not plant the idea in his head that he ought to shut up. Not while there are so many unanswered questions about dangers that may still be out there.