Top Intelligence panel lawmaker blasts Justice Department over Miranda rights

The head of the House Intelligence panel is worried the Justice Department may have jeopardized the public’s safety by allowing a federal judge to read the Boston bombing suspect his Miranda rights before fully interrogating him.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) is demanding answers from Attorney General Eric Holder on why the DOJ allowed a magistrate judge to inform Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of his Miranda rights while the FBI was in the midst of interrogating him earlier this week. 

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“We can’t have, in a case like this, the judiciary deciding, because it’s on TV and it might look bad for them … that they were going to somehow intercede in this,” Rogers, a former FBI agent, said in an interview with MSNBC. 

“It’s confusing, it is horrible, [a] God-awful policy, and dangerous to the greater community,” he said. “And we have got to get to the bottom of this, and we’ve got to fix it right now.”

Congress has long been divided over the highly charged issue of when, and whether, it is appropriate to read a terrorism suspect their Miranda rights after they’ve been captured in the United States.

Many lawmakers worry that crucial intelligence about future attacks can be lost if suspects are told of their rights too soon and realize what they tell interrogators can be used against them in a court of law. 

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler for the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts gave the Miranda warning to Tsarnaev on Monday after the DOJ officially charged the Chechen-born 19-year-old while he was in a hospital bed recovering from wounds suffered during a shootout with police last week.

Officials interrogated Tsarnaev for 16 hours before the magistrate judge read him his Miranda rights, and then he promptly stopped talking, according to Rogers. He has since been assigned a lawyer, but authorities were not finished gleaning information from him, Rogers said. 

Megyn Kelly of Fox News reported Thursday that the FBI was shocked to see the judge “waltz” into the hospital room.

While it was not immediately clear whether Holder played a role in ordering the Miranda warning, Rogers is concerned the DOJ did not fight the magistrate judge’s move, knowing the FBI was still questioning Tsarnaev. The department is in the process of responding to Rogers’s questions.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) also said he was watching the issue very closely and was interested in exploring it in greater depth. 

Goodlatte, a former lawyer, told reporters on Wednesday that he’s in favor of asking a suspect questions in emergency circumstances about who else is involved, what other weapons have yet to be discovered and whether there are future attacks being planned. 

Nearly 30 years ago, the Supreme Court created a “public safety” exemption to the Miranda warning, which allows federal officials to interrogate suspects without reading them their rights if they believe the public to be in danger. 

Officials operating under this exemption are not constrained by a time limit. However, the Sixth Amendment grants Americans the right to a speedy trial, which entitles them to a court appearance within 48 hours of being formally charged. 

On Monday, authorities announced that they would be charging Tsarnaev with using a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death. Shortly thereafter on Monday, the judge magistrate “Mirandized” him.

Statements given to authorities during a pre-Miranda interrogation are almost always inadmissible in court because the defendant was not officially aware of his rights. Technically — though rare — a judge could allow for statements about other bombs or attacks to be allowed in court if the government uncovered anything further that they wanted to charge the suspect with. 

Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for reading terror suspects their Miranda rights, which are necessary if the government aims to prosecute the case in a civilian court instead of a military court, another area of contention between parties. 

The GOP hammered Obama and Holder in 2010 after the attorney general admitted to ordering the Miranda rights read to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the thwarted Christmas Day “underwear bomber.” Abdulmutallab was convicted on all counts and sentenced to life in prison. 

Andrew Alperstein, a criminal defense attorney in Baltimore who deals with the Miranda issue frequently, said he thinks the government’s case against Tsarnaev is solid enough that it doesn’t need any statements made during the 16 hours of questioning without a lawyer to be successful. 


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