The recent and tragic events in Boston along with the subsequent capture of one of the perpetrators has raised questions and stimulated some public debate about whether it is legal to decline to read a criminal suspect his Miranda rights.
A person does not technically have a right to receive a Miranda warning just because they have been arrested. Rather, the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona requires law enforcement to inform a person of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during custodial interrogation — the most common example would be a person who has been arrested and is taken to a room at the police department for questioning. Therefore, should the police decide not to interrogate a suspect, no Miranda warning would be required.
If the police arrest someone and never give a Miranda warning, that person may end up tried and convicted anyway. When a person’s Miranda rights are violated, the government will be prohibited from using the statements obtained in unlawfully against a Defendant during his prosecution. However, the rule does not prevent prosecutors and police from using physical evidence or statements from other witnesses.
Regarding the Boston bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev specifically, the federal government has advised that it plans to use an exception to the Miranda warning known as the “public safety exception.” In the 1984 case of New York v. Quarles, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a situation where concern for public safety must be paramount to adherence to the literal language of the prophylactic rules enunciated in Miranda.” However, for statements made under this exception to be admissible in trial against the bomber, the questioning must not be “actually compelled by police conduct which overcame his will to resist,” and must be focused and limited, involving a situation “in which police officers ask questions reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety.”
Though there are admittedly (and luckily) few cases similar to this one in which the government has asserted the public safety exception to the Miranda requirement, the decision to decline any warning at all is troubling. In fact, the ACLU has gotten involved and called the government’s decision “un-American.” As the ACLU points out, adherence to the rules of our justice system is imperative to obtaining fair convictions. The whole world will be watching as this issue continues to unfold, and the last thing anyone wants is for a prosecution of this magnitude to be jeopardized by a violation of an American citizen’s basic rights.