Was 16 Hours of FBI Tsarnaev Questioning Pre-Miranda Excessive?


The FBI questioned alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev for 16 hours over two sessions without telling him he had the right to remain silent and to not implicate himself. The legal rationale was that the long questioning period was needed to find out if public security was at risk, perhaps because more bombs were planted or a collaborator was on the loose, says the Christian Science Monitor. Criminal defense lawyers say the government appears to be right on the line of what is permissible under the law in terms of the amount of time involved and possibly the type of questions asked.

“It does not seem unreasonable to question Tsarnaev for that period of time,” says Thomas Dupree, a former deputy assistant attorney general now at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “Public safety is paramount here. Law enforcement has to have time to ask questions.” Sixteen hours of questions seems excessive to Tamar Birckhead, a former federal public defender now on the law faculty at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “In the past, it was interpreted as five minutes. Then 50 minutes was found to be fine,” she says. “But 16 hours definitely seems beyond the pale.” Both sides acknowledge that the so-called public safety exception is vague, based on a 1984 Supreme Court ruling in a New York City police case.

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