Freedom New Mexico
No matter how grave the circumstances or dangerous the suspects, television detectives Joe Friday and Lennie Briscoe always remembered to do one thing as they slammed the perpetrator against the patrol car: Read him his Miranda rights. But, if new FBI guidelines are allowed to remain unchallenged, Americans’ Miranda rights someday could become as fictional as the police dramas that popularized them.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal uncovered an FBI memo from October 2010 that encouraged its agents to interrogate terrorism suspects — making no distinction between citizens and noncitizens — without first informing them of their rights to have an attorney and against self-incrimination. As strong defenders of individual freedom, we are troubled by any new administrative policy that takes away individual liberty or undermines established court precedents for interrogation procedures.
Beginning last May, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would seek legislation that would ask the courts to authorize a broader interpretation of the public-safety exception for questioning suspects. This exception allows for more lengthy and aggressive interrogations before notifying individuals of their rights.
Then, nothing happened. The Justice Department dropped its plan for congressional authorization or a judicial review. Instead, the department quietly issued an internal memo with the intent of mandating the looser rules by regulatory fiat. Regardless of whether these new rules are warranted, the public should be concerned that the FBI has circumvented the process of congressional review in its bid for new powers.
While we understand the legal challenges of combating terrorism, we are more worried about the erosion of constitutional rights. Over time, law enforcement agencies can be expected to apply new powers far beyond their original intent. For example, the Patriot Act, originally intended for terrorism cases, has been used in everything from kidnapping investigations to drug trials.
Informing suspects of their rights is an important safeguard that protects the innocent without empowering the guilty. Law enforcement groups argue that interrogations can produce valuable information that could prevent an imminent threat. Although such instances are rare, the Supreme Court has already addressed these “ticking time bomb” scenarios with a 1984 precedent that grants law enforcement greater Miranda leeway in these extraordinary cases.
We believe that it is important that the courts review any new procedures, rather than the federal agencies that routinely quash constitutional rights. There is no evidence to suggest that the court’s procedures have hampered law enforcement’s efforts to prevent crime or stop terrorist attacks.
Additionally, public safety groups contend that these regulations help guilty parties evade justice. Yet, the facts do not support this myth that defendants are walking free because of legal technicalities. Even in the eponymous case of Miranda v. Arizona, the defendant was ultimately convicted and sent to prison. After the Supreme Court threw out Ernesto Miranda’s kidnapping and rape convictions in 1966, the case was retried without the illegally obtained confession. In other words, civil liberties and criminal convictions are not mutually exclusive.
President Barack Obama promised that his administration would improve upon his predecessor’s cavalier attitude toward civil liberties. We are still waiting for the president to fulfill that promise.