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The Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was not read his Miranda rights immediately due to a "public safety" exemption:

A senior United States official said Monday that federal authorities invoked a public safety exemption to standard criminal procedures and questioned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Sunday without telling him that he had the right to remain silent, in order to learn whether he knew of remaining active threats.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/23/us/miranda-rights-withheld-for-marathon-suspect-official-says.html?_r=0


  • How does the public safety exemption work?
  • What are the legal implications of him not being read the Miranda warning?
  • Just so you know, this is not the sole exception to Miranda Rights, but one of many. – hszmv Aug 24 '18 at 15:46
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A suspect is read their Miranda rights to protect any immediate statements they might make so those statements are admissible in criminal proceeding — In the US, citizens are protected under the Fifth Amendment against being compelled to incriminate themselves of a crime.

The "public safety exemption" says that, in very specific circumstances, some statements given prior to Miranda warnings can be admissible into evidence if the situation posed an immediate and great danger to public safety.

This is seen often in murder investigations where a suspect is found at the scene of a shooting. If the weapon is not immediately located, it is generally admissible for the police to ask "where's the gun!?" without fear of acquittal due to self-incrimination. The need for spontaneity overrides the desire to protect those who might make "legally unadvised statements."

Of course, the risk of asking such questions (without advising them of their right to remain silent) is after the fact — the courts will have to determine if the public safety exemptions were indeed warranted before admitting the evidence. There's also a risk that the admission was "compelled" beyond someone's reasonable will to withhold such information.

If a suspect's rights are sufficiently violated, the authorities might not be able to hold them at all. And if the courts decide that there wasn't an imminent and substantial public safety issue, the courts will be forced to throw out anything said during his arrest. The problem becomes that any "fruits from the poisonous tree" (i.e. any secondary evidence obtained directly from what he said) can lead to evidence being ruled inadmissible, making it more likely the defendant being found not guilty or even summarily acquitted of all charges.

  • interesting answer, but it'd help of you had references to show that the exception is actually used in murder investigations as per paragraph 3 (or for that matter, cases of a case being thrown out over "improper use" of exception, assuming that did happen). – user4012 Apr 24 '13 at 22:42
  • The precedent was actually set in an assault case in NYC involving a missing gun at the arrest scene. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. Oh, and the poison tree is an extension of the exclusionary rule, a well-documented legal principle where evidence must be omitted to protect a constitutional right, sometimes causing cases to be thrown out due to legal technicalities. I'll have to work the references in at first chance. – Robert Cartaino Apr 25 '13 at 0:25
  • It's worth mentioning that while the Constitution guarantees certain rights such as protection from unreasonable search and seizure, it does not provide for any exemptions from them, and this is very clearly not a Tenth Amendment issue. Therefore, in a strict interpretation, all "Miranda exemptions" are invalid. – tsilb Apr 27 '13 at 3:26
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    @RobertCartaino - It's important to note that current case law is a little unclear about when the "poisonous tree" doctrine applies to Miranda violations. Oregon v. Elstad created an exception that would allow information gained in an un-Mirandized interrogation to be used later in a properly Mirandized confession, requiring that the suspect prove actual coercion in order to invoke the poisonous tree doctrine. Missouri v. Seibert has reined that in a bit, but given the fractured nature of the decision, it's a bit up in the air. – Athanasius May 1 '13 at 2:31
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    @tsilb the Constitutional prohibition on "unreasonable search and seizure," however, is vague, because it depends on "reasonability," which is subjective. From that subjectivity arise the exceptions to the general rules governing searches and seizures. The Miranda rule is also not explicit in the constitution, but only clarifies the degree to which an arrested suspect is protected by the fifth amendment when encountering the police. So the Supreme Court, which devised the rule, can also put limitations on it. – phoog Aug 24 '18 at 15:00

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