For Immediate Release
Broad Coalition Urges Attorney General to Leave Miranda Warnings Intact
and civil liberties groups sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder
today urging him to reconsider his call to Congress to "modernize" the
public safety exception to Miranda warnings for terrorism suspects.
Miranda warnings, ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court to be a constitutional
right, are used to inform suspects of their rights to both remain
silent and to legal counsel during interrogation. The attorney general
stated last week during appearances on Sunday morning network news shows
and testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that he would like
Congress to reexamine and "clarify" Miranda warnings for terrorism
In its letter to Holder, the
coalition stated, "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."
The coalition's letter was sent to
both the House and Senate.
Below is the full text of the letter
and a full list of signatories:
Attorney General Holder,
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
would be very interested in meeting with you or your staff to discuss
this issue further.
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Alliance for Justice
Civil Liberties Union
Rights Defense Committee
for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
on American-Islamic Relations
for International Policy
for Media and Democracy
and Justice Foundation
Committee on National Legislation
Road for Human Rights
Legal Fund of America
Open Society Policy Center
For the American Way
Democrats of America
Rights Working Group
U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation
Jackson Steering Committee
Roderick MacArthur Justice Center
World Organization for
Human Rights USA
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.