Answers to ‘controversial’ questions

Answers to ‘controversial’ questions April 27, 2013

Q: Why was the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing read his rights?

A: Because he was arrested and charged with a crime.

If you don’t understand that, then I don’t know how to help you understand it.

Perhaps you could ask Timothy McVeigh if he thinks that being tried under the law, instead of being tried outside of it, meant that prosecutors didn’t take his case seriously. Ask Timothy McVeigh if he thinks being read his rights meant that prosecutors were soft on terrorism.

Go ahead and ask Timothy McVeigh those ques …

Oh, wait.

Got a better idea?


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  • Becca Stareyes

    I’m not a lawyer but…

    Something Jon Stewart noted was that rights do not go away because their owner was not informed of them. (And, given how often they show up in TV, at this point even people who never have set foot in America probably know their Miranda rights.) Screwing this up is a good way to botch a trial, and then no one is happy (except the defendant and maybe his lawyer).

    Believe it or not, the government can make sure the defendant’s rights are preserved and he has a fair trial AND making sure the guilty party is convicted and sentenced.

  • Then how do you explain the almost complete lack of convictions since 1966, huh? The empty prisons and the ever-increasing rate of violent crime?

  • Eric

    It was weirding me out, listening to people say that the government should be able to execute and torture american citizens at will. These being the same people who think that the government is trying to establish a police state by stealing their guns.

  • I remember making this exact point, including the Timothy McVeigh connection last week on the Twitter machine.

  • JustoneK

    see it’s only morally wrong when other people do it. when _we_ do it it’s for all the right reasons and morally justifiable.

  • Jim Roberts

    [sarcasm] No, it’s only wrong if they’re coloured folk. And Muslims, even Muslims who are more Caucasian than you, are coloured folk because . . . look, it’s complication. [/sarcasm]

  • +1!

  • That Other Jean

    Sigh. Why do some people have such trouble with the idea that “equal protection under the law” applies even to people we don’t like?

  • I am in strong agreement with Fred on this one. Though his post could be better-worded (explaining the importance of the rule of law and the danger of pretending that the rights of Muslim defendants do not exist), it conveyed the point well enough.

  • The specific claim is that by reading him his Miranda warning, the state is acknowledging that he’s a civilian criminal under arrest, rather than a captured enemy combatant, and that now that he has received the miranda warning, they are committed, rather than keeping him in a rights-free twilighty in-between state.

  • I imagine that the people saying this think that he’s not a “Real True Citizen” — after all, he’s Muslim AND an immigrant.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That was my big question when this news first broke, and I’m still confused by it all. If he knows the rights, what’s to stop him from using them even though he wasn’t read them?

    I mean, I understand that they could have just denied him a lawyer had he requested one, but what was stopping him from just not talking?

    Does not having been read the rights somehow deprive you of them?

  • Sad, but likely.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Because treating people that you (general you) dislike as equals means admitting that there might not be some huge flaw with them, that your opinion of them might be based on something other than Absolute Truth and as such wrong.

    Some people can’t handle that.

  • JustoneK


  • Naymlap

    I’m not there, nor have I ever been shot up, but I’m guessing that after everything he’s been through it is kinda easy to lose track of things like what you learn from Law & Order (well except Sam Waterson’s eyebrows). The documentary on the Central Park 5 does a good job of how disorienting being arrested, booked and coerced into a confession can be. And oddly enough, he did stop talking after he was read his rights.

  • Jurgan

    It’s actually not required to read Miranda to everyone arrested. I’m not a lawyer, so correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, Miranda applies to interrogations, not arrests. Meaning, if you have an airtight case against a suspect and think you can convict him without needing him to make any statement, you can skip the reading. By not reading him his rights, the biggest risk is that any statement he makes may be inadmissible in court- if you don’t think you need those statements, you’re fine. More importantly, if the suspect is spilling his guts about accomplices, you don’t have to stop him and inform him he has the right to remain silent. You wouldn’t be able to use the statements against him, but they may still give you valuable leads for other investigations.

  • Jurgan

    All that said, the key point here is that the decision about whether or not the Miranda reading needs to be issued should be based on the law. If it’s legal to skip the reading and it’s the best way to progress, then that’s fine. The fact that he’s a scary terrorist and Muslim shouldn’t factor into it.

  • stardreamer42

    Well, among other things, he was being pumped pretty full of pain-killers. That doesn’t do a lot for one’s mental acuity, and any information obtained from him in that state is legally inadmissible in court.

  • Echoing what Jurgan said, my only concern about the reading to him of his Miranda rights is that they were not read sooner. My understanding of the legal protocol about them is that statements made before a subject is read the rights can be potentially dismissed if submitted in court under the argument that the subject was ignorant of the right to remain silent and thus those statements made under such ignorance cannot be used against them. The logic goes that law enforcement authorities looking to prosecute could let a subject think that they had no right to remain silent and thus be coerced into self-incrimination, so it theoretically curbs potential abuse of power.

    When it comes to prosecuting this guy, I think that will be the defenses’ strongest argument in an otherwise very weak case, but given what has happened I wonder if this will be overruled. As much as lawyers like to press on legal trickery and precedent I think that there is a little room for judges to make, well, judgement calls, and this seems too big to throw out.

  • What I can’t quite get my mind around is the idea that knowing you have the right to remain silent would affect your decision to stop talking. This is a guy who allegedly pulled off one bombing and was planning others. Are we seriously meant to believe that he was all like “Oh, you mean legally I don’t have to tell you everything? Well then, I’d best keep silent now. I was only talking before because I thought I didn’t have the legal right to remain silent, and I certainly didn’t want to get in trouble for not talking.” Why would someone who (incorrectly) thought that they were legally required to talk decide that was the law they wouldn’t break?

  • I think that Jon Stewart said it best.

    I think that the reason we are hearing so many clamor to break the highest laws in the country in the name of punishment has a lot to do with the authoritarianism. As Altemeyer said:

    [A]s noted earlier, authoritarian followers usually would go easy on authorities who commit crimes, and they similarly make allowances for someone who attacks a victim the authoritarian is prejudiced against. (If you were a district attorney prosecuting a lynching case, you would NOT rejoice at a jury filled with high RWAs.) But in general they would sentence most criminals to longer terms than the average Joe would. They also tend to strongly endorse capital punishment.

    Why are high RWAs extra-punitive against law-breakers? For one thing, they think the crimes involved are more serious than most people do, and they believe more in the beneficial effects of punishment. But they also find “common criminals” highly repulsive and disgusting, and they admit it feels personally good, it makes them glad, to be able to punish a perpetrator. They get off smiting the sinner; they relish being “the arm of the Lord.” Similarly, high RWA university students say that classmates in high school who misbehaved and got into trouble, experienced “bad trips” on drugs, became pregnant, and so on “got exactly what they deserved” and that they felt asecret pleasure when they found out about the others’ misfortune.

  • wygrif

    What the prosecution will say is that this fits under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. They’re probably right. (Which is not to say that the public safety exception was well thought out law when SCOTUS invented it).

  • wygrif

    Not true. The state has already filed a criminal complaint, which is an admission that he is not a military detainee.

    Miranda has a number of exceptions and the state will likely argue that he fits in one. Either that or they don’t need any of his statements to actually make out a case.

  • arcseconds

    Following Greenwald, I dug a little deeper (i.e. followed Greenwald’s links) to give a bit more detail:

    *) ever since the Miranda case in 1966, it’s always been possible for police officers to coerce or even trick suspects, it’s just that such things are inadmissible in court. The police officer may therefore decide that public safety is more important than a successful prosecution (or, I suppose, that they have watertight evidence without the suspect’s testimony).

    *) in 1984, the SCOTUS decided in New York v. Quarles that public safety was an exception to Miranda. Questions asked prior to giving the Miranda recital aimed at addressing public safety issues are still admissible in court.

    In the case in question, a man who was armed (according to the witness) during the crime was pursued by a police officer, but when captured had no weapon. The officer asked ‘where’s the gun?’ without reading the Miranda rights.

    ( )

    *) this public safety exception has recently been the subject of an FBI memo, which takes the view that terrorist suspects can be extensively questioned by agents, even about things ‘not related to any immediate threat’. The DoJ seems to be standing by this memo.

    Greenwald attributes this to the ‘Obama administration’, but it’s not clear to me that this memo originates from the White House in any real sense. It is true that the Attonery General was seeking legislation to allow the courts to take a lenient view on the public saftey exception, though.

    ( , )

    Here is Justice Marshall in his dissenting view to New York v. Quales:

    The irony of the majority’s decision is that the public’s safety can be perfectly well protected without abridging the Fifth Amendment. If a bomb is about to explode or the public is otherwise imminently imperiled, the police are free to interrogate suspects without advising them of their constitutional rights. Such unconsented questioning may take place not only when police officers act on instinct but also when higher faculties lead them to believe that advising a suspect of his constitutional rights might decrease the likelihood that the suspect would reveal life-saving information. If trickery is necessary to protect the public, then the police may trick a suspect into confessing. While the Fourteenth Amendment sets limits on such behavior, nothing in the Fifth Amendment or our decision in Miranda v. Arizona proscribes this sort of emergency questioning. All the Fifth Amendment forbids is the introduction of coerced statements at trial. Cf. Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545, 97 S.Ct. 837, 51 L.Ed.2d 30 (1977) (Sixth Amendment violated only if trial affected).

    He’s also at pains to point out that the Miranda rights are not rights that the Court invented tout court, but rather their interpretation of what is necessary to ensure compliance with the 5th Amendment, and that utilitarian considerations about the immediate case shouldn’t result in undermining the 5th Ammendment’s privilege.

    Back to Greenwald, he also points out that the US has already declared US citizens on US soil ‘enemy combatants’ and held them without trial or access to lawyers for years, for example the Jose Padilla case. The Court of Appeal upheld this treatment.

    ( )

    So, depending on exactly how bad the Government decides you are, they can ignore anything from Miranda to habeas corpus.

  • Lorehead

    I believe there were two arguments: that it was necessary for public safety to question him about other bombs he might have set and other co-conspirators who might have been at large, and that the evidence against him was so strong, they didn’t need a confession.

    It’s moot unless he denies everything from this point on anyway.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Right, I read some about the exception…Someone linked me to the government’s official explanation of it. I admit to not having though much about it overall, but my minimal thought opinion is that, if you can trust to not be abused, it seems okay.

  • I’m not sure what to think then of my open pleasure at suffering and punishment for members of the predator class.

  • Yes, you are correct. Miranda is quite narrowly about admissibility of statements made while in custody. The Greenwald crowd equating this to Bush’s indefinite detentions are not doing the Constitution any favours by muddying the waters like this.

  • And because heads they win tails we lose, you can bet your posterior that if this case actually does go to trial, and something gets thrown out because of the delay in giving the Miranda warning, the exact same people who are now shouting about how we shouldn’t have mirandized him will start shouting about how the administration could have been so incompetent as to allow him to speak even a single word without receiving the warning.

  • P J Evans

    I suspect they’re the same people who want to see him publicly executed, with as much pain and humiliation as they can think up.

  • Yet another example of Magic Line Sociological Theory in play.

    Magic Line Sociological Theory looks to one person or group of persons and silently believes that there is some boundary that, somehow, makes what can be done to them inherantly unrelated to what can be done to you.

    “He’s a terrorist! I’m not a terrorist. Therefore, my rights cannot be taken away even if he is waterboarded just so that certain politicians and pundits can take pleasure in the fact that he was waterboarded.”

    Of course, anybody can be accused of terrorism. That’s why we have trials.

    That’s what so many people are ignoring. That’s what so many people ignored about the “illegal enemy combatant”. You, too, can be accused of terrorism. And, if trial is not required before rights are withdrawn, you, too, can be waterboarded, denied swift or fair trial, etc, etc, etc.

  • stardreamer42

    That’s a well-worded explanation of something I’ve been aware of for quite a while but never got around to articulating. I think I’ll adopt it, if you don’t mind.

  • LoneWolf

    Well, part of the case with the Miranda rights is that the suspect has to demonstrate the ability to understand them. If someone is shot up, in critical condition and probably drugged, he can’t understand, and so it’s as bad to question him as it is to question someone who was not read his rights to begin with.

  • The_L1985

    Also, that that’s a mighty big “if.”

  • Well its easy not to have any sympathy with alien races whose only contact with us is to hunt us and the odd Alien down…
    Oh, you meant HUMAN predators….

  • Carstonio

    When they want governmental favortism for people like themselves, they sound like resentful children who complain of parental unfairness only when they’re on the losing end. A love-hate relationship with authority.

  • Steele

    The public safety exception does have a couple important protections within it. No information gained by invoking the public safety exception can be used in trial, or against the person. Whatever information he gave at that point, that’s something that, from a legal perspective, can’t be mentioned. If the lawyers try to bring it up, they’ll get slapped down, and it could possibly lead to a mistrial.

    He was Mirandized once the imminent threat was cleared. Once it’s clear there is no active, present danger, the public safety exception no longer applies.

    Miranda rights also only apply to interrogations. Miranda rights don’t apply to being imprisoned without trial.

    It’s very hard to abuse the imminent threat exception, because of how narrow it is. You can’t detain people with it. You can just question them without a lawyer, and they have to answer. The 5th Amendment DOES still apply during this time, because incriminating oneself applies to criminal trials. And you can only use information gained under it only to address an imminent threat.

    You can trust people not to abuse it, because this exception, at least, is damn near impossible to abuse. The most you could abuse it with would be to know what questions to ask after you stop invoking it. Of course, because he now has the right to remain silent, if he DOES, you can’t do anything about it.

  • LoneWolf343

    Eh, same difference.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    That’s not entirely fair; Predators only target individuals capable of fighting back.

  • I don’t mind. My ego could always use another boost. :)

  • I think that they like authority a whole lot, especially really brutal authority which will put “deviants” in their place. However, they have very particular ideas about what constitutes “legitimate” authority. If you are not part of their tribe, you cannot be an authority in their eyes, and are reaching beyond your station if you try.

  • wygrif

    “No information gained by invoking the public safety exception can be used in trial, or against the person. Whatever information he gave at that point, that’s something that, from a legal perspective, can’t be mentioned. If the lawyers try to bring it up, they’ll get slapped down, and it could possibly lead to a mistrial.”

    That’s not correct as a matter of federal constitutional law. See New York v. Quarles 467 U.S. 649 (1984) (admitting the D’s statement “the gun is over there” and the gun found against him despite the fact that he was not Mirandized).

  • addicted4444

    The problem with living in a state that follows laws like reading your Miranda rights is that people forget just how important they are. If you don’t understand why this is important, you only need to see what happens in other, ostensible democracies where stuff like having your Miranda rights read is not considered sacred.

    While reading it may simply be a ritual, it is a ritual which affirms to Americans, and the world, as well as the enemy, that America is a land of laws. Breaking those rituals sends a far more magnified, but opposite signal to the rest of the world.

    Not reading Miranda rights is a necessary (but not sufficient, obviously) first step to another Guantanamo.

  • addicted4444

    It wouldn’t make you a Right Wing Authoritarian at the very least, because the predator class is almost always part of, or liked by, traditional authority.

    You may possibly be a Left Wing Authoritarian (an authoritarian following an anti-government/traditional power authority).

    Of course you could have certain views coincide with an authoritarian’s without being an authoritarian yourself. That being said, I am pretty sure Altemeyer does not even believe in the idea that an individual could be an authoritarian. The characteristics described by Altemeyer apply only within large groups if authoritarians (any individual may lack certain authoritarian traits, but still be an authoritarian).


  • Carstonio

    That tribalism is a prominent manifestation of that love-hate relationship. I’m saying that the core is really a childlike attitude about authority, resenting being under it themselves but also wanting it to keep others controlled. Like they haven’t matured emotionally beyond the “He started it!” phase of childhood.

  • lawrence lapointe

    These things happen when the Bill of Rights turn into the Second Amendment and nine technicalities.

  • Yes. These are people who see living the True American way and holding the True American beliefs, (As well as yes, looking like ‘typical Americans’) as obvious and unquestionable proof of being good. They need to believe that they’re own identity makes them good, or more precisely that their own identity is good Because Other identities are wicked. That’s why they insist that authorities treat Islam as the one obvious reason for why terrorists in the name of Islam act as they do, and are quick to jump upon the suggestion of more general human motives as ‘political correctness.’ They will not except that absolutist thinking, valorization of struggle and ‘toughness’ or strict Manichean dichotomies might be the greater overall danger, because they themselves indulge in all of these things.

    There is also the fact that many on the Right Wing are fixed on eternally refighting old debates from Vietnam, the Cold War, the spike in crime during the seventies and eighties, etc. Seeing themselves as braver and tougher than The Liberals is just as important to this cohort as the sense or moral superiority is to the religious Right. If the standard for being Tougher than Thou just happens to mean being tougher than long-established American law; (already quite severe by democratic standards, but never mind.) then so be it.

  • Kirala

    My defense-lawyer dad was utterly disgusted by the backlash against the Miranda reading for precisely this reason (the gun thing) and from his experience: those who complain most loudly about others being allowed their rights are most insistent about receiving all due rights themselves.

    Dad is ordinarily extremely even-keeled, is part of the evangelical culture, and was a Republican until the middle-end of the Bush Jr administration – but this sent him on a lengthy rant about people who want to remove all rule of law and replace it with guns. Dad started calling the NRA evil, and Dad would be hard-pressed to pass such judgment on Stalin.

  • other lori

    I feel like this is a deck chairs on the Titanic kind of situation. Yes, he should be read his Miranda rights. But, really, it’s b.s. anyway. We live in a nation that incarcerates more people per capita than any country other than Stalinist Russia at the height of the gulag era, and we are a VERY close second (and, if you add in everybody under state supervision through house arrest, parole, or probation, we far, far, far surpass it). We live n a nation where black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in prison than employed, and where at any given time 5% of the black male population (and a far higher percentage of black males 18-30) are imprisoned. 5% of white men have been in prison at some point in their lives.

    We have far longer, harsher penalties for any crime you can think of than any other developed nation (which having rates of violent crime that are higher), and yet, the moment a violent crime occurs, all people can do is shout for longer, harsher penalties. And, since criminal justice in the U.S. is a political game, politicians give the people what they want.

    We worry about whether people are read their Miranda rights when, in practice, due process is a joke. Suspected criminals are routinely charged with more, sometimes many more, crimes than the prosecutor knows they can win convictions on. But, they use those charges as leverage to get the suspect to take a deal. Not many people, if told that if they go to trial, they will be tried on all charges and face 25+ years in prison, but if they plead guilty, all but one charge will be dropped and they will have a short prison sentence or avoid prison entirely and get probation, will gamble on the former, even if they are innocent or think the state has a very weak case. If everybody stopped taking plea bargains, the entire criminal justice system would collapse. We are forcing people into giving up their right to a fair trial by piling on charges as a bargaining chip to make sure they plead guilty or no contest.

    This is outrageous. This is monstrous. It is unbelievable that the international community hasn’t resoundingly sanctioned us for what are clear, egregious human rights violations.

    So, whether or not somebody gets read their Miranda rights is, in the scheme of things, meaningless. In the decades since the Miranda decision, our justice system has become exponentially more unjust. What we need isn’t more deck chairs rearranged. What we need is a total overhaul, a systematic move toward a restorative justice model, and, I think, a stance of non-cooperation toward the current system until significant changes occur. If our communities do not already have restorative justice programs in place as an alternative to the criminal justice system, we need to put them in place, and do whatever we can to keep the mainstream system from interfering. I’d participate in a community mediation program or seek out any other means of achieving justice and reconciliation over filing criminal charges for most offenses that could be committed against me or my family any day. I refuse to cooperate with or rely on an abusive, egregious unjust, fundamentally racist and inhumane system.