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Miranda Warnings - Public Safety Exception

Miranda Warnings: “Public Safety Exception”

Last week brought some devastating news headlines, from the Texas fertilizer plant explosion to the Boston Marathon bombing coverage.

News came on Friday that the remaining living brother of the duo the FBI suspects of committing the Boston Marathon bombing was taken into police custody. Since then, news stories have surfaced indicating that the police had decided not to give the suspect his Miranda Warnings.

Miranda warnings, which the public is often generally familiar with from television shows, such as cops, are required upon arrest of a criminal suspect. The Supreme Court did not specify the exact wording or even the ordering in which the rights must be read to a suspect; however, the Supreme Court did establish guidelines that police officers must be follow upon taking a suspect into custody. Generally the Miranda Warning is something similar to the following:

You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, you have the right to consult with an attorney, you have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.

This warning is given by police to criminal suspects taken into police custody before they are interrogated for the purpose of preserving admissibility of his or her statements against their own interest (i.e. confessing to a crime, or giving details of a crime only the person who committed it would know) in criminal proceedings. These warnings arose from the case of Miranda v. Arizona, decided in the United States Supreme Court in 1966.1 This case addressed how to ensure a criminal suspect in police custody was informed of his constitutional rights under the 5th Amendment during a custodial interrogation. The 5th Amendment states in part that:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; …2

While constitutional rights of course existed, at the time the Miranda case was decided, many people were uninformed, and often gave up his or her rights under the Constitution. The Miranda warnings were implemented to ensure that whenever a criminal suspect spoke to police while in custody, he or she was doing so willfully and knowingly.

The Miranda warnings have become a hotly debated topic this week in the news when the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was taken into custody and reports surfaced that the police had decided not to give the suspect his Miranda Warnings.3 The question is, how can this be so?

The police and FBI have elected to utilize the “Public Safety Exception” to the Miranda warnings requirement.4 This exception stemmed from the case New York v. Quarles.5 Basically, the police may question a criminal suspect, in custody, before giving him or her Miranda warnings so long as the questions are reasonably prompted by a concern for public safety, such as if the suspect may have knowledge of facts or circumstances that may pose an immediate risk of a safety concern for the public. For example, if the more bombs were planted to go off and harm other persons. Thus, the public safety exception does not create an unlimited interrogation exception to the Miranda warnings, but is narrowly tailored to address imminent public safety concerns.

Once the questions during the interrogation turn from questions involving the immediate safety of the public, to the crime already committed and possible exculpatory statements, the Miranda Warnings must be given if those statements may be admitted at trial later, as such questions fall outside the scope of the exception. A part of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C.’s focus is on education, and we hope this blog has made you a more informed citizen relative to the complex ways our constitution works relevant to societal needs.

We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding the Miranda Warnings. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.

  1. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
  5. New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984).

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Dixon & Moseley, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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