The available evidence leads me to believe that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the people who bombed the Boston Marathon last Monday. I certainly can’t prove it — and I would want to see first-hand evidence if I were on a jury trying him — but I’m comfortable assuming he’s guilty for now.
If he’s guilty as I assume he is, he’s a cold-blooded killer. A monster. A selfish murderer with no regard for other people.
Despite that, I’m very concerned that police don’t intend to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights. He’s injured and can’t speak right now, but when he’s finally questioned, he’s not going to be told that he has the right to remain silent. He won’t be told that he has the right to an attorney to represent him. It will just be up to this 19-year-old to happen to remember for himself what his rights as an American citizen are. (And you can bet that police and the FBI are going to work hard to convince him he has no rights.)
If you want to know about the history of the so-called “public safety exception” to reading a suspect his rights, take a look at this article in Slate. I’m not going to rehash the legal history of the matter, but you’ll understand the issues better if you read it.
I only want to emphasize one thing about this. If we’re supposed to have rights that are guaranteed to be honored by government — but those rights can be set aside at the sole discretion of that same government — those aren’t really recognized rights. Those are just privileges that we’re allowed to have when it’s convenient for government to allow them.
If Tsarnaev — or the worst of criminals — doesn’t have the rights allegedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, none of us do. If the government can unilaterally decide when to ignore rights, we may as well not pretend to have them.
The U.S. government was originally given a very narrow set of powers. Some people were afraid of the central government overstepping its limited powers, so the first 10 amendments were added as a Bill of Rights. When some people (rightly) objected that listing some rights made it appear that these were the only rights people had, the last two amendments of the Bill of Rights were included to make it clear that the people and the states retained the powers not mentioned — and that not mentioning a right didn’t mean it didn’t exist. Unfortunately, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments might as well not even exist anymore.
Just about every right that was listed in the Bill of Rights has come to have exceptions of one kind or another. You can have freedom of speech, as long as you don’t want to speak anonymously about elections. You can have freedom to keep your own weapons, as long as you happen to want a weapon that the government says it’s OK for you to have. You can be free of having your home and papers searched without a warrant, unless the government decides it wants to comb through your financial transactions at any time of its choosing.
And now, you can have the right to be informed of your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, unless the government decides that it wants to know what you might know about a crime.
Our rights are slowly being stripped away. Each time it happens, most people stroke their chins and say, “Well, that seems reasonable to me. We can do without that one, at least in this case.”
You either have a right or you don’t. Lawyers and politicians have spent many years tearing down things that are supposed to be recognized as inviolable rights. If Tsarnaev isn’t accorded the rights he’s supposed to have, you don’t really have those rights, either.
You might say it’s different because you’re not going to be a criminal who’s helped blow people up. You’re probably right. But we can’t legally prove that Tsarnaev is a criminal yet. We’re just relying on the word of the same people who have now decided to limit his rights. If you reach the day that you’re the suspect, do you want the same government that’s accused you to decide to strip a right from you?
I don’t have any sympathy for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, because I assume he’s a cold-blooded killer. But I have a great deal of sympathy and respect for natural rights and for future innocent people who are going to be harmed by this shameful precedent.