Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Resolving the Miranda Dilemma

By Coleen Rowley
May 18, 2010

One spring morning in the mid 1990s, a man whose last name was Liberatore rang a doorbell, pretending to be a delivery person.

Read on.

1 comment:

Bill from Saginaw said...

This country owes a debt of gratitude to courageous whistle blowers like Coleen Rowley, a twenty-plus year FBI special agent in the Minneapolis field office who spoke truth to power at great personal cost about the FBI's institutional shortcomings in the events leading up to the 9/11 WTC attack. Ms. Rowley was a fine public servant. She remains a very special, principled figure and resource in trying to help the public make sense out of all that has gone so terribly wrong in the post-911 war on terror hysteria.

That said, I take strong issue with one factual assertion in her excellent essay on the public safety exception to the Fifth Amendment, and disagree with the whole effort by Attorney General Holder and others to tinker legislatively with the existing Miranda rule.

According to Ms. Rowley, "Miranda was devised years before police routinely videotapped their interrogations (as a superior method of proving they are not overcoming a person's will or overstepping Constitutional voluntariness standards."

True, Miranda was decided by the Supreme Court in 1966, when audio and videotape technology was quite primitive. Very true, that contemporaneous videotaping of an interrogation session is a conscientious police officer's best friend, and a tool of enormous value in ferreting out truth and proper context.

But it is false, false, false that in 2010 America we live in a world in which police "routinely" tape the questioning of a person of interest or the suspect in a criminal case. Just a handful of states require recording, or require a signature upon a proof read admission or confession, for it to be admissible in court. The FBI does not "routinely" do this in their field investigations either.

Most interrogation sessions are memorialized in the interrogator's narrative summary. Countless hours are expended in court proceedings later in which the completeness, context, and basic accuracy of the officer's summary of a potentially critical conversation are vigorously contested - precisely because most such police/civilian interviews are not recorded or taped contemporaneously.

Coleen Rowley is right that the Quarles public safety exception should be given prominence when the criminal conspiracy under investigation (or to be thwarted) is one potentially involving mass murder. Real world judges will cut law enforcement officials a lot of slack when something like a ticking time bomb, or a baby in a duffle bag, or a loaded handgun hidden in some public place is really, genuinely involved.

Miranda (with a narrow, fact-specific public safety/emergency exception) has worked well for nearly 50 years now. The wannabe Detroit underwear bomber and the wannabe Times Square SUV bomber spoke to the FBI, were Mirandized, had their rights respected, and continue to cooperate with law enforcement authorities, often with legal counsel at their side.

Why the rush to fix what isn't broken? Do you really want to open up the great legislative can of worms of passing some sort of Miranda loophole statute targeting terrorist suspects today, drug dealer suspects tomorrow, and perhaps selected violent crime/sex crime suspects during next week's news cycle or next year's election cycle?

The pack of rascals currently holding forth in the US House and Senate should not be allowed to get their hands anywhere near the Bill of Rights. Nearly all of them are already repeat offenders when it comes to trashing civil liberties guarantees.

For God sake, let us not invite the inmates to vote on how to run the asylum when it comes to police interrogation practices.

Bill from Saginaw