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Shortly after the arrest of suspected terrorist Dzhokar Tsarnaev a debate raged across social media platforms on the issue of Miranda rights. Republican and libertarian twitter users were divided on the issue.
Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted “The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda rights telling him to "remain silent." Glenn Beck, on the other side of the issue tweeted, “We love you Boston! Praise God. How about praising God by reading an American, despicable as he is, HIS RIGHTS!”
Issuing a Miranda warning to American citizens upon their arrest has been standard operating procedure since the summer of 1966. We can argue the legal logic of the Courts ruling in Miranda v. Arizona all we like, but the fact of the matter is Miranda is now well established precedent adhered to by every law enforcement agency, and court jurisdiction in the country.
In the case of Dzhokar Tsarnaev the issue is not so much whether or not a Miranda warning is legally necessary, but whether or not it is morally necessary. According to the Supreme Court, testimony of an American citizen received prior to the issuing of a Miranda warning is inadmissible as evidence. However, in this case Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s guilt may likely be proven by the abundance of photographic and video evidence, as well as his well-documented flight from authorities, not from his interrogation by police. From a prosecutorial standpoint, failing to Mirandize most likely does not jeopardize this case, however that should not be the only consideration.
The Department of Justice has chosen to invoke the “Public Safety Exception” to the Miranda protocol, which allows the government to interrogate an individual without advising them of their rights, when they deem the public may be in danger. This exception is potentially dangerous, and certainly it is a slippery slope. Which government official gets the privilege of invoking this exception? Who decides what constitutes a threat to public safety? What prevents the government from invoking the public safety exception when Mirandizing is just too inconvenient? Where is the line drawn between public safety and the preservation of rights?
Dzhokar Tsarnaev is an American citizen who will be charged and tried under federal and state law, not as an enemy combatant. Tsarnaev has been in police custody for two days, surrounded by authorities and lying in a hospital bed in serious condition. Unless the government truly believes there is an imminent threat to public safety, in which case they ought to alert the public, Tsarnaev should be Mirandized, not out of necessity, but because he is an American citizen. Many Americans are far too comfortable with the government invoking this mystical public safety exception, especially considering this is the same administration that considers veterans and evangelical Christians prime suspects for domestic terrorism. Until we the people are given assurances and details regarding when, and who gets to decide to withhold rights from American citizens, we should, at the very least, remain highly skeptical.
In the wake of crisis, often times Americans are far too willing to give the government a pass when liberties are infringed upon. We must remain vigilant and ensure that even when civil liberties are unpopular, they are protected; failing to do so will set an unhealthy precedent for decades to come.