News Release ~ 04/22/13

The Constitution Still Applies in Cases of Alleged Domestic Terrorism

Washington, DC (April 22, 2013) – In cases of alleged domestic terrorism, as with other state and federal crimes, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) supports the use of America’s civilian criminal justice system. NACDL also opposes any expansion whatsoever of the “public safety exception” to Miranda v. Arizona. Indeed, NACDL has long resisted legislative and other efforts to restrict individuals’ constitutional rights, including the right to receive the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona.

Miranda is the landmark Supreme Court case requiring law enforcement officials to read criminal suspects in custody their rights, including their right to an attorney, before questioning them. Furthermore, Miranda itself is an evidentiary rule that determines whether statements may be used in evidence. The Miranda rule does not prevent the government from questioning anyone, including a suspect, for informational purposes as long as any statements provided are not used as evidence against them. A narrow “public safety exception” permits law enforcement to temporarily interrogate suspects without providing them their constitutionally-mandated Miranda warning in emergency situations.

NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said: “The ‘public safety exception’ is precisely that – an emergency exception. It cannot become the rule for any category of alleged criminal conduct without undermining the Constitution. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil, has been in custody for nearly three days and the government will have a heavy burden to show that any further questioning without a reading of his Miranda rights is justified. In addition, the suggestion that Tsarnaev be treated as an enemy combatant or diverted out of the civilian criminal justice system would amount to a radical suspension of due process and NACDL opposes it. All crime is by definition an attack on civil society and the civilian population. Distinctions in degree, breadth, or inhumanity do not distinguish these crimes from the conduct that our criminal justice system is designed to prevent and punish. The crimes committed at the Boston Marathon took place on Patriots’ Day, a holiday marking the first battles of the American Revolution. It would certainly add to this tragedy if the events of last week lead the government to abandon the core protections the founders fought so hard to secure.”

According to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday, “the immediate threat, I think all of law enforcement feels, is over, based on the information we have.”

Contact: Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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