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Where’s the Change?

This week, the Obama Administration, via Attorney General Eric Holder, hinted that they would like to pursue an exemption to the Miranda Rights for “international terrorists” in an effort to appease critics.  I am pretty disturbed, to say the least.  I wrote briefly last week that I hate that fact that reading the Miranda rights is even a debate.  Ok, pursuing a legal exemption is far better than just ignoring the law, but has the Administration even contemplated the complexities of such an exemption?  Let’s begin with the fact that Faisal Shazad, the failed Times Square bomber, is in fact an American citizen.  Not only that, Shazad spoke openly and freely and was cooperative with interrogators following the dissemination of Miranda.  What tangible benefit would this provide for police officers in obtaining information?  If anything, it shapes up a battle between the Executive and Judicial Branch in which principles of law will butt heads with an executive order.  Will the judicial branch accept a carved exemption?  Legal precedent seems to indicate otherwise, outside an imminent threat (New York v. Quarles).

These are just the basic problems, but let’s dig a little deeper.  A Miranda exemption is ripe for potential abuse, as there is no objective standard for what an “international terrorist” actually is.   The law as an institution frowns upon police powers that lack quantifiable, objective standards that leave unmitigated discretion in the hands of individual officers.  Who qualifies as an international terrorist?  Would you have to know of an allegiance to an international group?  Would it have to be a non-citizen?  Where would someone like John Walker Lindh–the American Taliban–had he been captured in the U.S. fall on the spectrum of international terrorism?

Would a state like Arizona use this in conjunction with its racist anti-immigration law in order to target illegal immigration?  Some of these questions are just skimming the surface of the issues raised by a Miranda exemption.  Will we codify a legal distinction between a terrorist like Timothy McVeigh verse a group like the original World Trade Center bombers in 1993?  If so, then what is the policy reason for granting a higher level of legal rights to a McVeigh than an Arabic terrorist? Again, there is absolutely no valid objective metric to apply such an exemption.

I am completely and utterly perplexed by the consideration of such a drastic change to the 5th Amendment rights in America.  To me, this raises far more questions than it does answers and leaves a majorly important decision subject to a potentially emotionally charged, on-the-job police officer, rather than a uniform set of laws.  Our President is supposed to make difficult decisions irregardless (I did it again…I can’t resist using this word) of political pressures and suggesting a Miranda exemption is nothing more than bowing to short-term emotional pressures.  This is one of my biggest areas of concern with President Obama–the level of continuity of the fear-based policy decisions which so clearly led to the destruction of President Bush’s mandate and ability to effectively govern.  These are the types of policies that have dogged our country for the last decade and led to the entrenchment of a deep partisan divide.

More to follow on this topic in the coming days.

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