Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rights and Misconceptions

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk with a lawyer..."

Or a reasonable variation thereof.

Is there anyone now living in the U.S. who doesn't know what their constitutional rights are if arrested? It would be hard to believe, since the "Miranda Ruling" was handed down back in 1966, which means the majority of Americans have heard it on TV and elsewhere ten thousand times since they were born. And yet it is still mandatory to be given to all arrestees by the police here. I'm guessing it probably isn't necessary, in point of actual "need" anymore - though still necessary from a legal standpoint.

In 1963, an emotionally disturbed young man confessed to police that he had committed an armed robbery and a rape. He did so after hours of police questioning. In 1966, he was set free even though he did the crimes. This was because he honestly didn't know what his constitutional rights were. On appeal, the Supremes ruled that the police have an obligation to ensure the suspect DOES understand that he has certain rights under the U.S. Constitution. The rest is history.

The point I want to make here is that a person accused of a crime in the U.S. has the 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate, and the 6th Amendment right to defense counsel. Since at least 1787, Americans or other people arrested within the U.S. have had these rights. It's hard to find someone who isn't aware of that today, but in 1963, people hadn't heard it on TV on cop shows over and over again. Ernesto Miranda was one of those constitutionally challenged individuals who had apparently slept through the Bill of Rights lesson in 8th grade. In a landmark court decision, he went free.

As I write this, another young man, gravely wounded, lies in a Boston hospital, assumed to be a terrorist. He has not been "miranda-ized." He will be questioned without having his rights read to him, under some sort of exception the president can apparently approve if it is in the national interest. As I write this, the ACLU is threatening to sue to get the authorities to read him his rights, and the Massachusetts public defender's office is offering to defend him, even though President Obama has authorized the Miranda exception.

Excuse me, but I find this whole debate laughable. Why?

Just because you don't read someone his rights doesn't mean he doesn't still HAVE those rights. His rights to silence and an attorney derive from the U.S. constitution, not from the reading of a summary from a piece of paper. In other words, if he doesn't want to talk, he doesn't have to, and if he asks for an attorney, one must be provided to him - else the police are themselves breaking the law -- the highest law of our land.

Somehow or other, all these TV experts, including high-level FBI people, and even the Justice Department on up to president Obama, are deluding themselves into thinking if they don't read the young man his rights, and if it is legal not to read him his rights, then, by gosh, he's GOT to talk and he doesn't get to have an attorney. Balderdash.

What are they going to do if he doesn't talk? Beat him? No. They're going to interview him for three days straight, using repetition and psychological abuse, with no sleep. But they would have done that anyway, had they read him his rights. If he doesn't talk, you can still keep questioning him, with or without Miranda. It's just that, normally, without Miranda, you're wasting your time because any confession will be thrown out at trial. They're going to get into trouble, though, if they don't produce an attorney for him if he knows his rights and asks for one.

Are we living in a strange, misinformed, deluded world, or what? "Don't read him his rights. That way he'll HAVE to talk." Oh, really?


Of course, if he DOES talk, then his confession can't be thrown out just because he wasn't Miranda-ized. There's that. But the whole purpose of Miranda, or one of the main purposes, is so confessions can't be coerced through abuse or sleeplessness.

They have enough evidence in this case, probably, so that a confession isn't necessary to convict. It is obvious they are not after a confession but want to gain knowledge of a possible larger terrorist organization, as well as more details about the Boston bombing. But what good is it if you coerce the information? How reliable? It's the same thing they are, or were, doing in Guantanamo. I'm a pretty conservative (I mean "traditional") guy, but this is not making sense to me. Maybe by the time this is published, we'll all have the answers.


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