Boston bombing ignites legal debates

Even with more questions than answers, legal debates surrounding the Boston bombing show America isn’t just another “Banana Republic”   


Tomas Mega, U.S. correspondent     

One week after the capture of the surviving accused terrorist in the Boston Marathon bombings, the American public is faced with more questions than answers.

How did two young men manage to set off two bombs nearly simultaneously, something that experts say is not easy to do?  Did the Tsarnaev brothers act alone?  Why did the FBI and the CIA, having received a tip from the Russian Intelligence Service regarding Tamarlan, fail to act decisively?  Where and how, in a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in America, did the brothers get the weapons to ambush and kill a campus police officer as he sat unsuspecting in his patrol car, and then engage police in a violent fire fight?  Why did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a 19 year old American citizen described by friends as the “sweetest guy,” place a bomb-laden rucksack next to an eight year old boy, blowing him apart?  What was the motive for two young men to kill three in a bombing, send 243 people to the hospital, 13 (to date) of whom have had single or multiple limb amputations, and then attack and kill a young campus police officer?

As Americans ask these questions, there is also much debate regarding the legal process surrounding the arrest and charging of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.   What Americans know is that he was charged by Federal prosecutors with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, a charge that could result in the death penalty.  Troubling to many is that the Obama administration decided to interrogate Tsarnaev without first giving him his Miranda warning, also known as Miranda Rights.

The Miranda warning is a warning given by police in the United States to criminal suspects in police custody, or custodial interrogation, before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of any statements made by them in criminal proceedings.

The Obama administration cited a ‘public safety exception’ as the reason for not giving Tsarnaev his Miranda warning.  He was eventually read his rights after initial interrogations.  This decision has drawn scorn from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  “Every criminal defendant is entitled to be read Miranda rights,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement.  “The public safety exception applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety, and is not an open-ended exception to the Miranda rule.”

And there lies the problem for the prosecution.  Famed attorney and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has said, “There was never a basis for the public safety exception.  When they announced this, the police had already announced that the public safety danger was over, they had arrested everybody.  And if they try to circumvent these rules by not giving him his Miranda rights, I can easily see a Federal court saying, ‘You can’t use any of his statement that he gave you in writing in the hospital.’”

For the casual observer, it is hard to understand why Dzhokhar Tsanaev would not have been given his Miranda warning.   Whether this omission becomes a factor in his trial, we will have to wait and see.  At the very least, it is reasonable to assume that Tsarnaev’s attorney will seek to avoid the death penalty.

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 No “Banana Republic”

Tsarnaev will be assigned a Federal Public Defender to represent him.  While some may see this as a thankless and impossible task for an attorney, it is generally acknowledged that Federal Public Defenders are some of the best and brightest minds in American law.   Ms. Miriam Conrad, a Harvard Law School graduate heads the Boston Federal Public Defenders office.  She has spent over two decades as a Federal Public Defender, and has defended terrorists such as Richard Ried, known as the ‘shoe bomber.’

The Miranda warning failure is not the only issue causing debate.  Politically motivated discussion has begun as to whether or not he should be tried as an ‘enemy combatant,’ versus normal Federal criminal proceedings.  By law, a United States citizen cannot be tried as an enemy combatant, and the government has a succession of high profile terrorist convictions under normal Federal Criminal proceedings.

Regardless of how Americans feel personally about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, you are innocent until proven guilty in America, and he deserves competent legal representation.  He also deserves to be tried in accordance with American law.  You cannot change the rules in the middle of the game.  That only serves to make a mockery of our system of justice.  And if it happens, then America becomes just another ‘Banana Republic.’

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