Civilian trial for Tsarnaev

Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s trial belongs in the justice system.

Daily Editorial Board

After the massive manhunt following the bombing at the Boston Marathon, suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev was captured alive. Immediately, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for the 19-year-old citizen to be designated an enemy combatant due to alleged ties to radical Islam. Upon the designation as an enemy combatant, a terrorist suspect would lose all rights to due process and a fair and speedy trial. President Barack Obama’s administration disavowed treating Americans as enemy combatants in 2009 and is to be commended for standing by the principles of the Constitution in the face of terrorism. However, while the administration has dropped the term, it continues to employ indefinite military detention and has yet to close Guantanamo Bay as Obama campaigned for.

In addition to the use of indefinite detention, terrorism has forced other compromises on principles that are held as essential defenses of liberty. Upon arrest, the reading of Miranda rights has been institutionalized in the wake of the landmark 1966 court case Miranda v. Arizona. A confession that occurs due to interrogation of a suspect who has not been read the Miranda rights is inadmissible in court. Subsequent cases have recognized the need for a public safety exception. In cases of terrorism, the public safety exception is relied upon as a means of preventing future attacks by obtaining information from the suspect before being advised of a right to remain silent. This stretches the meaning of the original intent of the public safety exception — intended to apply to immediate threats to an officer’s or public safety.

However, the decision of whether such testimony is admissible is decided by the court. If the interrogation goes beyond a reasonable effort to protect immediate public safety, it can be thrown out, forcing prosecutors to simply rely on other evidence. In itself, delaying Miranda is not a denial of due process. In the bigger picture, the controversy would be moot if acts of terrorism were not tried in the criminal justice system. While compromises may help protect public safety, they lead to a slippery slope toward the erosion of liberty and require careful public scrutiny.