The Times West Virginian

April 28, 2013

Should bombing suspect be treated as ‘enemy combatant’?

Times West Virginian

— Anyone who has watched a cop show or two probably is familiar with a Miranda warning. Every state has variations with the exact phrasing, but it typically sounds like:

• You have the right to remain silent.

• Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.

• You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.

• If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.

• If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.

• Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

The warning, or otherwise referred to as “Miranda rights,” is read to suspects taken into police custody so that their statements will be admissible in court. It dates back to a 1966 Supreme Court case when the high court found that failing to advise a suspect of their rights was a violation of the fifth and sixth amendments and that if a suspect is not made aware of those rights, anything said may not be used against them in court.

It does not mean that a suspect must be Mirandized. And in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, while he was properly charged within 48 hours of being taken into police custody, he was not read his Miranda rights prior to being questioned by federal officials?

Why? There are things the American public will never know about the alleged acts of these brothers. But it’s likely that between evidence collected after the suspects were identified and surveillance footage taken at the bombing sites and the subsequent police chase in Watertown, Mass., they probably didn’t need Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to say whether or not he was responsible for the crimes to successfully prosecute him.

“First and foremost, your priority is to stop other threats and protect the public,” Michael Rosensaft, a former federal prosecutor in New York, told the Los Angeles Times. “After that, you can focus on the prosecution.”

It’s possible that federal officials wanted to know about the plot first, to determine if the threat level had been eliminated, or whether there needed to be further steps taken to protect the American public.

But though many have criticized the decision, all questioning stopped after 16 hours in detention when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arraigned by federal Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler in his hospital bed. He was then moved to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston to be treated for the four bullet wounds he sustained during the police chase. It is a high-security medical detention facility.

The only way to have stopped the process of arraignment and the legal steps that had to be taken by law enforcement officials and the courts would have been to declare Dzhokhar Tsarnaev an “enemy combatant.” And would the courts look favorably on that? An American citizen committing crimes on American soil being tried as an enemy combatant? It may have set some very frightening legal precedents.

We asked our readers about this issue, the ones who log on each week to to weigh in on how suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be treated by the court system. On our online poll question, we asked “Should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev be tried as a terrorist by the federal government, which limits his legal rights, or by Massachusetts authorities?”

And here’s what you had to say.

* The crimes happened in Massachusetts and should be prosecuted as such — 5.34 percent.

* Federal charges offer the death penalty as a sentence — something that must be considered — 10.69 percent.

* He is an American citizen, not an enemy combatant, who deserves the legal rights afforded to citizens — 15.27 percent.

* This was an act of war, and he should be tried by the feds as a terrorist — 68.7 percent.

Of course, this case isn’t over. In fact, analysts say it may take years for the process to play out. So keep on reading, it’s sure to come up again.

This week, let’s talk about West Virginia’s Feed to Achieve program, which is getting some national attention. What are your thoughts on the program, which would blend private donations and federal funds to feed every child in school breakfast and lunch?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor