Miranda's Public Safety Exception: 3 Legal Concerns

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 24, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was initially interrogated without his Miranda rights being read to him. The Justice Department cited Miranda's "public safety" exception.

Tsarnaev's questioning was conducted by the department's High-Value Interrogation Group, The Huffington Post reports.

But there are potential dangers to expanding Miranda's public safety exception in order to extract information from suspects. Legal concerns include:

1. The Potential Overuse of Public Safety Exception.

The public safety exception allows testimony gained from interrogation without Miranda warnings to be used against a defendant, if that questioning was "necessary to secure [officers'] safety or the safety of the public."

Tsarnaev was awake and answering questions in writing from his hospital bed Sunday, Reuters reports, and investigators invoked the public safety exception.

However, there is a concern that if police are able to question suspects who are restrained and in their hospital beds, what exactly is the necessity or danger?

This exception could potentially be used by law enforcement to eschew Miranda warnings whenever there is a shadow of future danger related to a suspect's alleged crimes.

2. The Potential Infringement of Constitutional Rights.

The Fifth Amendment's right against self-incrimination is protected by the Miranda warnings given to suspects before they are interrogated by police.

This protection from the inherent dangers of police coercion keep many suspects from confessing to crimes they did not commit, which is what the U.S. Supreme Court worried about in Miranda v. Arizona.

Before we expand the public safety exception to all tragic events, we should consider that suspects of extreme and heinous crimes should be guaranteed this protection against coercion, despite the public outcry.

When we face severe charges and suspicions is when we need our constitutional rights most, so should we erode those protections every time an atrocity occurs?

3. The Potential Effect on Interrogations.

Widening the the public safety exception may encourage law enforcement to amp up the length and intensity of their interrogations.

Miranda dissuades police from using coercive tactics with the threat of excluding any evidence gained from tainted testimony.

If this punishment for coercive police practices is weakened due to use of the public safety exception, the concern is that we may see increased detention and extended questioning of American citizens who have not been charged with a crime.

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