Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Did the Obama Administration Flip Flop on Miranda?

What I'm about to say may piss off some of our progressive readers but, if we're honest with ourselves, we must be equal opportunity bloggers when it comes to calling a spade a spade.  If you caught Meet the Press this past Sunday then you saw U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaking on what soon turned out to be somewhat of a controversial take away message regarding the Obama Administration's use of Miranda rights for terrorist suspects. According to the NY Times:

The Obama administration said Sunday it would seek a law allowing investigators to interrogate terrorism suspects without informing them of their rights, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. flatly asserted that the defendant in the Times Square bombing attempt was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan. Mr. Holder proposed carving out a broad new exception to the Miranda rights established in a landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling.
It didn't take long before other media sources (mostly liberal) seized upon Holder's interview and demonized the Obama Administration for attempting to "take away people's Miranda rights" with this "brand new exception."  There's only one problem: Holder never said any of that.

Am I suggesting that a respectable publication such as the Times has intentionally misquoted the Attorney General of the United States?  Well, not exactly.  They are, however, guilty of spinning what Holder said in order to make it sound more controversial than it is.  (I suppose in most media circles they simply call that "reporting.")

Many liberal news pundits (*cough*MSNBC*cough*) immediately echoed the Times in mischaracterizing Holder's statements in two distinct regards:

(1) That the Obama Administration is seeking some sort of "brand new exception" that will strip US citizens of their Miranda rights in a way never before seen.  And,
(2) That through this new rule, investigators will be able to interrogate suspects without informing them of their rights. Period.  End of story.

I couldn't disagree more with this interpretation of Holder's (and, by extension, the Obama Administration's) message regarding the emergency exception to Miranda.  But don't take my word for it, let's look at what Holder actually said (start at the 0:59 mark of the video):

Holder: "What you do is use the 'public safety exception' that the Supreme Court has defined to make sure that there are no immediate threats..."  

What he's talking about is the "public safety exception" to the Miranda warning that, contrary to the liberal spin on this issue, has been defined by the Supreme Court for quite some time.  In fact, this exception has been around since 1984 and comes from the case New York v. Quarles.  In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that, in cases involving an imminent threat to public safety, police may ask questions directly related to that imminent threat (and ONLY related to that imminent threat) in order to ensure that a pending threat to the public safety does not still exist.  Once it is determined that an imminent threat no longer exists to the public safety, the suspect must then be read their Miranda rights and then its business as usual from that point on.  This flatly contradicts points (1) and (2) above.  Moreover, Holder references the New York v. Quarles case several times during his interview on Meet The Press. (see the 1:55-2:14 mark of the video)

If we skip ahead to the 2:38 mark, after David Gregory is done giving us his own interpretation of the law (I didn't know Gregory had an honorary law degree), Holder says:
"We certainly need more flexibility and we want the public safety exception (as in that same exception that was mentioned at 0:59) to be consistent with the public safety concerns that we now have in the 21st century as opposed to the public safety concerns that we had in the 1980's."
The reason why Holder specifically references the "1980's" here is because, once again, he is referring to the 1984 case New York v. Quarles which David Gregory doesn't seem to pick up on or be interested in acknowledging.  Instead, during the interview with Holder, Gregory seems to be more concerned with sensationalizing the idea of a "brand new" exception to the Miranda Warning as if he's just discovered Al Capone's vault.  In reality, what Holder is actually saying is that the Obama Administration would like to work with Congress to merely codify the ruling in New York v. Quarles with modern language.  That's it.  No more, no less.

Therefore in sum, I have to call foul on the Times (sorry to all you Times fans out there) and I also have to call foul on certain liberal pundits who have been all too eager to characterize this law enforcement policy as something that it clearly is not.  Let's all take a breather.  Nobody is talking about taking Miranda rights away from the people. In fact, to be completely honest, we're not even talking about doing anything new here; this safety exception has been used by law enforcement for over 20 years now.  Miranda is still solid law in America and the Supreme Court has indicated on several occasions that there's not too much any of us can do to change that fact.  Case in point, in Dickerson v. U.S., one of the most conservative Supreme Court Justices we've ever had, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, had a chance to throw out the Miranda rule once and for all.  When presented with the option between protecting the Miranda rule or allowing Congress to erase it off the books, he said, and I quote: "We hold that Miranda, being a constitutional decision of this Court, may not be...overruled by an Act of Congress, and we decline to overrule Miranda ourselves."

The Defense Rests.
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