During the press conference this evening, the question of whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been read Miranda rights arose. Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney, noted that they had not read him the rights, but were employing the “public safety exception”. The following is a good explanation of the exception.
Via Zero Hedge:
The Quarles Court made clear that only those questions necessary for the police “to secure their own safety or the safety of the public” were permitted under the public safety exception.35 In U.S. v. Khalil, New York City police officers raided an apartment in Brooklyn after they received information that Khalil and Abu Mezer had bombs in their apartment and were planning to detonate them.36 During the raid, both men were shot and wounded as one of them grabbed the gun of a police officer and the other crawled toward a black bag believed to contain a bomb. When the officers looked inside the black bag, they saw pipe bombs and observed that a switch on one bomb was flipped.
Officers went to the hospital to question Abu Mezer about the bombs. They asked Abu Mezer “how many bombs there were, how many switches were on each bomb, which wires should be cut to disarm the bombs, and whether there were any timers.”37 Abu Mezer answered each question and also was asked whether he planned to kill himself in the explosion. He responded by saying, “Poof.”38
Abu Mezer sought to suppress each of his statements, but the trial court permitted them, ruling that they fell within the public safety exception. On appeal, Abu Mezer only challenged the admissibility of the last question, whether he intended to kill himself when detonating the bombs. He claimed the question was unrelated to public safety. The circuit court disagreed and noted “Abu Mezer’s vision as to whether or not he would survive his attempt to detonate the bomb had the potential for shedding light on the bomb’s stability.”39
A common theme throughout cases such as this is the importance of limiting the interrogation of a subject to questions directed at eliminating the emergency. Following Quarles, at least two federal circuit courts of appeals have addressed the issue of the effect of an invocation of a right on the exception. In U.S. v. De- Santis, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the public safety exception applies even after the invocation of counsel.40 According to the court: “The same consideration that allows the police to dispense with providing Miranda warnings in a public safety situation also would permit them to dispense with the prophylactic safeguard that forbids initiating further questioning of an accused who requests counsel.”41
In U.S. v. Mobley, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that the public safety exception applied even when the subject had invoked his right to counsel.42 The court recognized that a threat to public safety still may exist even after Miranda rights are provided and invoked.
At least 7 IEDs were reportedly found in their home in Watertown, as well as other bomb making equipment. So the question of more bombs were a very real possibility and the exception likely wisely invoked.