EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

April 22, 2013

Legal questions surround suspect

WASHINGTON — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has become the focus of a heated debate over whether he should receive the Miranda warning or be treated as an enemy combatant.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz indicated in a news conference Friday night that investigators planned to question Tsarnaev without the standard reminder of his rights to remain silent and to request a lawyer. That could make him the first test of a two-year-old Justice Department policy expanding emergency exemptions when questioning terrorism suspects.

Ortiz’s statement brought criticism from the left and right. Civil libertarians said the decision would erode civil liberties for everyone. But some Republicans said that it did not go far enough, and that Tsarnaev should be treated as an enemy combatant.

“The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim and kill innocent Americans,” Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said in a joint statement. Conservatives have long demanded that terrorism suspects not be tried in federal courts.

Ortiz invoked a newly expanded version of the so-called public safety exception to Miranda warnings. The Supreme Court formulated the warnings in 1966 and created a public safety exception in 1980, saying police could interrogate suspects, and use their statements against them, if the lives of police or the public were in danger.

In 2011, after intense criticism of the Justice Department’s handling of the so-called “underwear bomber,” the department expanded the use of the public safety exception in domestic terrorism cases, so that it could be invoked in exceptional circumstances even when there was not an imminent safety threat.

The changes were made after the suspect in the Dec. 25, 2009, airline bomb attempt, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was questioned for less than an hour before being read his rights.

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