N.Y. v. Quarles and Miranda's Public Safety Exception

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

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:

  1. Questions necessary to resolve the danger to the public, and
  2. 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:

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