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Why Tsarnaev Should Be Read His Miranda Rights

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Since several commenters are suggesting that we shouldn’t care about whether Tsarnaev is read his Miranda rights, it’s worth explaining why we should care.  Emily Bazelon is good on this, but let me add a couple points.

It is true that, in a narrow sense, the federal government is free under Miranda to interrogate Tsarnaev without informing him of his rights if it believes it has enough independent evidence to convict him.   But this is not the only consideration.   Miranda does not require us to be indifferent about the distinction between coercive and non-coercive interrogations, and indeed its logic suggests that we shouldn’t be.  Earl Warren, to his great credit, did not believe that there was a inherent contradiction between professionalism and the respect for the rights of the accused and crime control.  The local authorities that relied on coercive interrogations and didn’t follow professional procedures weren’t more likely to convict criminals, although they were more likely to convict the innocent.  Miranda reflected this belief, and the intent of the rule was to inhibit coercive interrogations, because coercive interrogations were both wrong in themselves and produced unreliable information.

To refuse to inform Tsarnaev of his rights — outside of the acknowledged emergency exception to Miranda — sends the opposite message.   It’s the message of the previous administration — i.e. that the rule of law and the “war on terror” are incompatible, that slapping the label “terrorist” on a suspect means that professional procedures that respect the rights of the accused can’t work.   This isn’t right  — it’s wrong in terms of the values it represents and it’s wrong in terms of the underlying assumption that less respect for the rights of the accused means more effective crime control.  The appropriate course of action is for Tsarnaev to be treated like any other criminal suspect, consistently with not only the letter but the spirit of Miranda.  Coercive interrogations are wrong because they’re wrong, not just because the state isn’t permitted to introduce evidence gained from them.  This is why the Bill of Rights contains the Fifth Amendment rights Miranda was designed to enforce.

…more here.

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