N.Y. v. Quarles and Miranda's Public Safety Exception
In the Boston bombing case, authorities have claimed that the public safety exception to Miranda allowed them to question Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without first reading him his Miranda rights.
Tsarnaev's questioning by the High Value Interrogation Group was conducted days before the 19-year-old suspect was read his Miranda rights on Monday, The Huffington Post reports.
The public safety exception to the general rule of Miranda comes from the N.Y. v. Quarles case, and its use in the upcoming Tsanaev case may broaden its scope.
The General Rule of Miranda
Our "Miranda rights" stem from the Miranda v. Arizona decision, where the court determined that the dangers of police interrogation to your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination required some sort of protection.
If someone in custody is not read her Miranda rights, the testimony gained from any questioning by police cannot be used at trial, with some exceptions.
The Public Safety Exception: N.Y. v. Quarles
The general procedure of Miranda can be overlooked when there is reasonable belief, based on specific evidence, that public safety is in danger.
In N.Y. v. Quarles, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception: Police officers could skip giving a suspect her Miranda warnings if there was an "immediate necessity" to resolve a dangerous situation.
The case in Quarles involved officers who noticed that the suspect had an empty gun holster and worryied that an accomplice or innocent might harm someone if they did not immediately locate the weapon.
The Supreme Court stated there could be two types of questions in this situation:
- Questions necessary to resolve the danger to the public, and
- Questions for the purpose of extracting incriminating evidence.
The public safety exception only allows officers to ask those questions "necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public."
Other Bombing Cases
In addition to Tsarnaev's case, the public safety exception to Miranda has also been raised in several other bombing cases. Examples include:
- U.S. v. Hodge, a 6th Circuit case that determined that questions about a potential bomb are justified under the public safety exception, even without evidence that a third party might reach the bomb soon.
- U.S. v. Khalil, a 2nd Circuit case in which a suspect was questioned before Miranda rights were read. The public safety exception applied to statements about whether he had planned to kill himself with a bomb.
- U.S. v. Spoerke, an 11th Circuit case where police asked a hospitalized suspect about the composition of packages they suspected to be explosives, even when police had complete control of the crime scene.
- Why Should I Care That No One's Reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev His Miranda Rights? (Slate)
- The "Public Safety" Exception to Miranda (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
- Right Decisions Made in Boston Bombing Venue, Miranda Delay (FindLaw)
- 'Shake and Bake' Meth Rumors Lead Cops to Bomb, Miranda Mistake? (FindLaw)