Miranda Rights and the Public's Safety

Article excerpt

"(Law enforcement) interviewed Mr. Shahzad ... under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule. ... He was eventually ... Mirandized and continued talking."

-- John Pistole, FBI deputy director, May 4

All well and good. But what if Faisal Shahzad --who authorities say is the Times Square bomber -- had stopped talking? When you tell someone he has the right to remain silent, there is a distinct possibility that he will remain silent, is there not? And then what?

The authorities deserve full credit for capturing Shahzad within 54 hours. Credit is also due them for obtaining information from him by invoking the "public safety" exception to the Miranda rule.

But then Shahzad was Mirandized. If he had decided to shut up, it would have denied us valuable information -- everything he is presumably telling us now about Pakistani contacts, training, plans for other possible plots beyond the Times Square attack.

The public safety exception is sometimes called the "ticking time bomb" exception. But what about information regarding bombs not yet ticking but being planned and readied to kill later?

In this case, however, Miranda warnings were superfluous. Authorities say Shahzad had confessed to the car bombing attempt while being interrogated under the public safety exception. That's admissible evidence. Plus, authorities say he left a treasure trove of physical evidence all over the place -- which is how he was caught in two days.

Even assuming that by not Mirandizing him we might have jeopardized our chances of getting some convictions -- so what? Which is more important: (a) gaining, a year or two hence, the conviction of a pigeon -- the last and now least important link in this terror chain, or (b) preventing future terror attacks on Americans by learning from a suspect what he might know about terror plots in Pakistan and sleeper cells in the United States? …