Gary Stuart speaks on Miranda rights

Gary Stuart speaks on Miranda rights.

How central is Miranda to our constellation of rights? When and how would we ever agree it would be acceptable to abrogate the rights gathered under the Miranda rubric?

That issue never arises on the easy cases, of course. In the workaday world, every police officer in the United States knows that the reading of the Miranda rights is an essential part of their role.

Arrests following a terror attack are not the easy cases.

That’s what we saw after the arrest of a suspect in the bombings at the Boston Marathon. The federal government announced that it was interrogating the suspect in advance of reading his rights.

We’ve understood for years that there may be emergencies that militate toward questioning-before-rights. For instance, if officials believed there could be timed explosive devices secreted around the city, they arguably should begin questioning immediately. Time will help explain if that is the situation that faced officials.

This Sunday, Gary Stuart examined the uneasy choices we make when we set aside basic rights. Gary is an experienced lawyer and author of Miranda: The Story of America’s Right To Remain Silent.”

In his Arizona Republic op-ed, he traces the history of Miranda and subsequent rulings that have carved out exceptions to the rights.

Cagily, he leaves his powerful conclusion for the last three paragraphs. In case you are as impatient as I am, here they are:

“We should be wary about doctrinaire Miranda compliance in terrorist cases, especially where the public safety is at risk—as the Boston Marathon bombing clearly was.”

“Even so, balancing too far in favor of gathering intelligence by minimizing suspects’ rights might reverse five decades of Miranda application. While we want to win the war on terrorism, it cannot come at the price of returning to the bad old days before Miranda, when law enforcement was silent on the rights of suspects.”

“If law enforcement is silent and suspects are not, we might advance the war. But if domestic suspects have no rights, especially in terrorist cases, then those seeking to destroy democracy itself and replace it with a radically fundamental theocracy will have obtained one of their objectives.”

Read Gary’s entire editorial here.

What are your thoughts? Do we risk too much when we allow the pendulum to swing? Or does the government adopt a permissible position when it acts as it did in Boston?