Civil Liberties Groups Urge Holder and Obama Not to Water Down Miranda

Just reading the list of 35 signatories to this letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder today urging him to abandon efforts to have Congress water down Miranda rights, gives hope that progressive lobbying is still alive in this country.

In its letter to the Attorney General, the coalition stated, “Current law provides ample flexibility to protect the public against imminent terrorist threats while still permitting the use of statements made by the accused in a criminal prosecution. Weakening Miranda would undercut our fundamental Fifth Amendment rights for no perceptible gain.”

Here are the groups and the text of the letter: [More...]

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Alliance for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Appeal for Justice, Asian Law Caucus, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Brennan Center for Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Center for International Policy, Center for Media and Democracy, Defending Dissent Foundation, Democrats.com, DownsizeDC.org, Inc., Freedom and Justice Foundation, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Government Accountability Project, High Road for Human Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Muslim Legal Fund of America, New Security Action, No More Guantánamos, OneAmerica, Open Society Policy Center, Peace Action Montgomery, People For the American Way, Progressive Democrats of America, The Rights Working Group, U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation, Robert Jackson Steering Committee, Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, WarIsACrime.org , Witness Against Torture, World Organization for Human Rights USA.

The full text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General Holder,

We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our concern about your recent call to restrict the constitutional rights of individuals in the United States suspected of terrorist activity by seeking to codify or expand the “public safety exception” to Miranda v. Arizona. Current law provides ample flexibility to protect the public against imminent terrorist threats while still permitting the use of statements made by the accused in a criminal prosecution. Weakening Miranda would undercut our fundamental Fifth Amendment rights for no perceptible gain.

As you know, the Supreme Court crafted the “public safety exception” to Miranda more than 25 years ago in New York v. Quarles. This exception permits law enforcement to temporarily interrogate suspected terrorists without advising them of their Miranda rights – including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney – when “reasonably prompted by a concern for public safety.” It allows federal agents to ask the questions necessary to protect themselves and the public from imminent threats before issuing a Miranda warning. Provided the interrogation is non-coercive, any statements obtained from a suspect during this time may be admissible at trial.

Law enforcement used the Quarles “public safety exception” to question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” and Faisal Shahzad, the alleged “Times Square bomber.” Both suspects reportedly provided interrogators with valuable intelligence during that time and continued to do so even after being advised of their rights. As you observed during your May 9, 2010, appearance on “Meet the Press,” “the giving of Miranda warnings has not stopped these terror suspects from talking to us. They have continued to talk even though we have given them a Miranda warning.”

In the nearly nine years since the attacks of 9/11, the Department of Justice has obtained convictions in more than 400 international terrorism or terrorism-related cases without weakening Miranda or risking the safety of Americans. The “public safety exception” is exception enough. Should the need arise to conduct an un-Mirandized interrogation unrelated to any immediate threat to public safety, law enforcement is free to do so under the Constitution. Miranda imposes no restriction on the use of unadvised statements for the purpose of identifying or stopping terrorist activity. The Fifth Amendment only requires that such statements be inadmissible for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Yet even this requirement has exceptions. Un-Mirandized statements obtained outside the public safety exception may still be used for impeachment, and physical evidence discovered as a result of such statements may also be admissible.

We understand that the Department of Justice must confront serious threats to our national security and is responsible for taking the necessary steps to protect the safety of the American people. For this reason, we understand the Department’s reliance on the public safety exception in the Abdulmutallab and Shahzad investigations. We believe, however, that current law provides all the flexibility that is necessary and constitutionally permissible. Miranda embodies a centuries-old tradition designed to prevent coerced confessions that lead to wrongful incarceration and diminish our collective security. Codifying or expanding the public safety exception would almost certainly lead to the exception being invoked far more often than is strictly necessary and would function as an end run around the constitutional requirements of Miranda. We therefore urge you to reconsider your call for Congressional action to expand the public safety exception.

We would be very interested in meeting with you or your staff to discuss this issue further.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Good for them (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 12:37:30 PM EST
    And I'm a proud, longtime member of three of those organizations (the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and People for the American Way).  I think I'll send each some additional money, in gratitude for their stance.

    Agree (5.00 / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Mon May 17, 2010 at 12:44:14 PM EST
    Check in the mail to ACLU...

    Careful you guys... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 12:57:26 PM EST
    they got all kinds of crazy laws about who you can give money to these days...hate to see either of ya get pinched for supporting a terrorist organization, which I fear too many in our country consider the ACLU and Human Rights Watch to be...but at least they've dodged the official scarlet letter so far:)

    Careful? (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:15:17 PM EST
    Pffft....I don't intend to bend over for the American Taliban any easier than I intend to bend over for the other one :)  And anyone labeling either organization a terrorist organization doesn't know what the a terrorist organiztion is.

    I agree... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:20:11 PM EST
    Uncle Sam doesn't see the terror org staring back in the mirror, so how could they be a fair arbiter of which org is a terror org?...:)

    I was just snarking thinking of the guy who got locked up for buying some raincoats...ya just never know in these starnge days we live in.  It certainly wouldn't surprise me if the spooks were keeping an eye on who sends checks to the ACLU...but that being said, I'm with you, f*ck them.


    I know you're snarking (none / 0) (#8)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:32:31 PM EST
    Kdog, but the direction this country is going, I really wonder sometimes......that's not going to stop me from supporting these worthy organizations.  I'll tell you something, though- the day they designate organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch as "terrorist organizations" is the day I move to Canada, and I'm not joking.  Or maybe Sweden.

    People say that ... (1.00 / 0) (#21)
    by nyrias on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:40:40 PM EST
    about Bush getting elected and they are still here.

    Words are pretty cheap.


    So, you're (none / 0) (#23)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 04:03:58 PM EST
    perfectly content with the direction this country is going?  I feel sorry for you, then.

    how do you make THAT ... (none / 0) (#26)
    by nyrias on Mon May 17, 2010 at 05:30:40 PM EST

    You must be using some kind of weird logic not familiar to me.

    How does questioning someone's claim of moving to another country automatically equate to being content with the direction of this country?

    Please explain that to me.


    You said (none / 0) (#27)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 05:46:01 PM EST
    "Words are cheap."  It led to the conclusion that you think that people who talk about moving to other countries because of conditions in this country are, shall we say, talking out of their hats.  I'm perfectly serious about it, myself.

    nope ... (none / 0) (#28)
    by nyrias on Mon May 17, 2010 at 10:40:29 PM EST
    the correct conclusion is that I don't believe they are serious (or believe most are serious).

    And that statement is a judgment on the characters of those people, and NOT their views of whether the country is going in the right or the wrong direction.

    That is, i think they are just venting and not trying anything constructive.


    Then lets hope that day never comes... (none / 0) (#12)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:50:56 PM EST
    Lady Liberty needs the Zorbas of the world to stick around.

    The day they tack on a supporting terror charge to buying a dub is the day I join ya on the Canada Express...the man has already fired out some feelers on that front.


    Thanks, Dog (none / 0) (#17)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:17:29 PM EST
    But I don't feel that I do enough.  I call, I write my representatives, I give money and support to worthy organizations, but I'm getting too old and too arthritic to march and demonstrate (as I did when I was much younger).  Sometimes, it all seems to be just a bit too much "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."  I get discouraged at where we are and where we seem to be going (in the 21st freaking Century, for crying out loud!), and I weep for our country.    

    You do a lot more than I... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:24:03 PM EST
    and I've still got my youth...I surrender.  I don't march, I wouldn't waste a written word on an elected "representative", and the only donating I do is to local bums and the food pantry.

    Hate to say it but the place is just too far gone and I don't see the point of getting locked up swimming against the tide...I'm resigned to trying to carve out a free little happy existence in spite of it all.  

    I realize this makes me part of the problem, but it's the best play I've got with these cards I was dealt...your generation battled, the bad guys won....and now they're so much stronger and firmly entrenched.


    Can't say as I blame you, Dog (none / 0) (#20)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:29:52 PM EST
    I haven't given up quite yet, but every day seems to give me more and more reasons to get discouraged about the direction we're going in this country.

    The guy ... (none / 0) (#19)
    by nyrias on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:28:25 PM EST
    who bought some raincoats sent them, with his own admission in front of a judge, to Al Qaeda.

    A dollar Al Qaeda does not have to use to buy raincoat can be used to make bombs.

    The ONLY issue is whether this guy actually did it. If he did, he can rot in jail.


    Yeah... (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 05:01:56 PM EST
    how dare he buy a slicker for a sc*mbag.

    At least there is a chance the next guy won't be Mirandized, right my friend? Progress.  Let it all rot.

    "Cuz everybody so ashamed,
    for letting it all slide.
    Cuz everybody so afraid,
    Mr. Dylan's Hard Rain was fair warning."


    you are confusing ... (none / 0) (#25)
    by nyrias on Mon May 17, 2010 at 05:29:26 PM EST
    the severity of the actual act, to the due process of proving someone is guilty.

    Why do you think that if I want terrorists to be punished (or locked up), i would NOT want due process rights for americans?

    There is no logical conflicts in those two positions.


    Exactamundo (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:29:31 PM EST
    The bill that Lieberman is touting would do just that. And considering that terrorist groups are often named solely on the basis of politics, you are correct. It is hardly inconceivable that the ACLU could be named a terrorist group, through association, and anyone who gave money to them would be automatically stripped of citizenship.

    This is such a wild time to be aware (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Militarytracy on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:26:00 PM EST
    When my husband saw John McCain on the news talking about how we needed to get rid of some Miranda he just couldn't believe it.  Newly home from Afghanistan, where we are trying to build a society that recognizes a rule of law, and build a social fabric where Afghans can all esteem themselves.  We are trying to get them to believe that they can build a society where they can matter, each have specific guaranteed value in their society, and have something greater than the ability to simply fight to survive their next victimization..........that anyone in America is seriously having this debate just freaks him out.

    I don't blame him (5.00 / 3) (#11)
    by Zorba on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:50:41 PM EST
    It freaks me out, too, Miltarytracy.  We say we're trying to fight terrorism and spread democracy and basic human rights, yet we keep doing things (and trying to do things) that limit the very fundamental rights that this country was built on.  When we surrender our rights in fear of "terrorists," then the terrorists have won.  I can only refer to an old quote from Walt Kelly's Pogo:  "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

    If we had a nickel for.. (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:53:12 PM EST
    every veteran of foreign war who made it home, and at some point came to the realiziation "I fought for this sh*t?", we'd have at least a grand.

    He isn't in that place (5.00 / 0) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:16:06 PM EST
    He is in a place though where he lived surrounded by a very uncivil society and uncivilized society.  Then he comes home to "civil society" losing its civil mind.  In his mind's eye, he has seen what happens to people and their society when their worth becomes a "privilege".

    Miranda is fine the way it is, (none / 0) (#9)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:35:02 PM EST

    The problem is this administration's decision to treat enemies that make war on the US as common criminals.  The result is they want to change Miranda and in result treat common criminals as enemies making war.

    Turning war criminals over to the military for interrogation and trial is the appropriate place to try war crimes.

    So if they suspect that I could be (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Mon May 17, 2010 at 01:42:17 PM EST
    desiring to attack the U.S. I lose my miranda rights?  Even if it turns out I'm completely innocent?

    You would not fit the profile (none / 0) (#14)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:05:14 PM EST
    On the other hand if you set your underwear on fire while on a commercial jet landing over a large city....

    Or if you have made 5 or so trips to Pakistan over the past few years and then bought the car that was full of explosive stuff and parked in Times Square......

    You would.


    Seriously Jim (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Mon May 17, 2010 at 02:11:19 PM EST
    How do you know what the "profile" is going to be?  Remember this poor b*st*rd?  Cuz I do.