Time to Codify a Miranda Exception for Terrorists?

Today at 12:15 at the University of Utah College of Law I will be debating my colleague Amos Guiora about whether Miranda rights should be extended to terrorists.  I have previously blogged here and here about my view that Miranda’s “public safety” exception means that law enforcement officers investigating terrorist incidents need not give Miranda warnings.  I thought I’d briely lay out my argument a bit more fully now in anticipation of the debate.

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmautallab (the so-called “Christmas Day Bomber”) usefully frames the issue.  According to public reports, Abdulmutallab spoke openly to FBI agents in his initial 50-minute interrogation — questioning that took place before he was Mirandized.  He then received treatment for his burns. And five hours after his initial interrogation a second team of interrogators was brought in to question him. These interrogators were part of a “clean team,” brought in to interrogate him after he was read his Miranda rights. The “clean team” began by reading Abdulmutallab his rights. And Abdulmutallab, advised of his right to remain silent, chose to exercise it.

The policy question here is why would anyone want to give Abdulmautallab Miranda warnings?  As Stewart Taylor forcefully wrote here:  

But no reasonable person could doubt that starting out with “you have the right to remain silent” is not the way to save lives.  Yet this is essentially the policy into which the Obama administration has locked itself by insisting that it did the right thing when it read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas Day bomber, his Miranda rights after only 50 minutes of questioning and a hospital visit.

The only reason that I can see for giving Miranda warning in such a situation is that the is a constitutional requirement to do so.  But Miranda has been interpreted (in New York v. Quarles) as containing a “public safety” exception, allowing police officers to jettison the Miranda procedures in situations where the question is motivated by preventing further danger to the public.  In that case, for example, police officers were allowed to question suspect Quarles aboutt the location of gun he had apparently discarded in a supermarket. 

The exact parameters of the public safety exception are unclear.  But if any circumstance would appear to involve overriding public safety concerns, it would be a circumstance involving a terrorist investigation.  Indeed, the Second Circuit has allowed un-Mirandized question of terrorist suspects about how bombers were made and how to disarm bombs that were uncovered.  U.S. v. Khalil, 214 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 2000).  Questioning of suspects like Abdulmutallab would seem to comfortably fit within the exception.

Because there appears to be some legal uncertainty about whether the public safety exception covers terrorist investigations, it would be useful for Congress to weigh in on the subject and clearly express its view.  Here’s one way a statute covering terrorist investigations could be drafted:

¨“When a law enforcement officer questions any suspect arrested for terrorist offenses found in chapter 113B of Title 18, or comparable offenses under state law, a situation involving the public safety shall automatically be deemed to exist and the officer need not provide any advice of rights to the suspect.  Any voluntary statements made by the suspect shall be admissible in any prosecution thereafter brought by the United States or by the District of Columbia.”

I will be interested to see what Professor Guiora and others think of my proposed statute.

Update:  Rick Pildes from NYU has alerted me to his excellent post, found here on Balkinization, also arguing for a codification of the Miranda public safety exception in terrorist situations.  Here an excerpt from his argument:

Congress [should] . . .  enact legislation to define the contours and boundaries of the public-safety exception to Miranda in terrorism cases. The public-safety exception already exists: the question is how it ought to apply in contexts, such as terrorism investigations, in which there is uncertainty because the courts have not yet had to define the scope of the exception. Congress could define the circumstances in which law enforcement can engage in non-coercive questioning of terrorist suspects, without Miranda warnings, for purposes of gathering general intelligence information, purpose (2) above, while still being able to use any statements against that suspect at trial. Informed by counterterrorism experts, Congress could specify the time period in which such questioning is necessary and permissible (hours? a day? several days?). Congress could consider authorizing a brief period of initial, non-Miranda interrogation, but then require law enforcement to get judicial authorization for any further period of such questioning. In other ways, Congress and the President could codify what these two institutions jointly believe is the appropriate and necessary contours of an intelligence focused, non-Miranda period of questioning.

Further update:  I’m embarrassed that I didn’t cite co-blogger Orin Kerr’s analysis of this same issue, which can be found here.


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