When Elena Kagan was nominated, there were very few of us voicing strenuous objection, one of the primary reasons I did was her complete lack of experience in the adversarial system, especially with her total lack of knowledge and interest in criminal process issues, which would be critical in the face of the Obama DOJ’s determination to further gut Miranda.
The feared Kagan chickens have come home to roost. The Supreme Court just announced its decision in Howes v. Fields, and the decision is a significant further erosion of the critical Constitutional protections embodied in Miranda. The ruling specifically holds that police are not automatically required to tell prisoners of their legal right to remain silent and have an attorney present when being questioned in prison about another crime.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented. Noting that Fields was only incarcerated for disorderly conduct in the first place, Ginsburg stated:
For the reasons stated, I would hold that the “incommunicado interrogation [of Fields] in a police-dominated atmosphere,” id., at 445, without informing him of his rights, dishonored the Fifth Amendment privilege Miranda was designed to safeguard.
Notice who did NOT side with her fellow “liberal bloc” Justices to honor and protect Miranda? Elena Kagan. No, Kagan instead sided completely with Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and the rest of the conservative bloc.
No democratic appointee to Supreme Court should ever vote to further erode Miranda, and this case did exactly that in a fundamental way. But Barack Obama gave us the authoritarian Elena Kagan who, predictably, did just that. As a prediction: you will be seeing a lot more of Elena Kagan voting with Alito, Scalia and Thomas on crucial law and order/criminal process, not to mention evidentiary, issues. Get used to it.
Oh, and as a reminder, Obama may soon enough have the opportunity to further shove the ideological spectrum of the Supreme Court substantially to the right, just as he did when he replaced John Paul Stevens with Kagan. If Obama replaces the liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg with another mushy authoritarian and/or corporatist centrist, like he did in replacing Stevens, liberals will regret it for decades.
Judicial policy matters.
[updated slightly to reflect authoritarian as a descriptor for Kagan, which, as EW points out, is more germane to this discussion on Howes]
The proclivity of the Obama Administration to simply do as it pleases, whether it violates the Constitution, established authority or the separation of powers doctrine is beyond striking. Last week at this time they were ignoring the Constitutional right of Congress, the Article I branch, to be the determinative branch on the decision to take the country to war. Today Mr. Obama’s Department of Justice has stretched its ever extending arm out to seize, and diminish, the power and authority of the judicial branch and the US Constitution.
Specifically, the DOJ has decided to arrogate upon itself the power to modify the Constitutionally based Miranda rights firmly established by the Article III Branch, the Supreme Court. From Evan Perez at the Wall Street Journal:
New rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.
The move is one of the Obama administration’s most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S. And it potentially opens a new political tussle over national security policy, as the administration marks another step back from pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods.
The Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda ruling obligates law-enforcement officials to advise suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present for questioning. A 1984 decision amended that by allowing the questioning of suspects for a limited time before issuing the warning in cases where public safety was at issue.
That exception was seen as a limited device to be used only in cases of an imminent safety threat, but the new rules give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.” Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.
This type of move has been afoot for almost a year, with Eric Holder proposing it in a string of Sunday morning talk shows on May 9, 2010 and, subsequently, based on Holder’s request for Congressional action to limit Miranda in claimed terrorism cases, Representative Adam Smith proposed such legislation on July 31, 2010. Despite the howling of the usual suspects such as Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, etc. the thought of such legislation died in the face of bi-partisan opposition from a wide range of legislators who actually understood Constitutional separation of powers and judicial authority. They knew the proposed legislation flew in the face of both concepts. And they were quite →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Gulet Mohamed, the teen held in Kuwait, allegedly beaten, and interrogated by the FBI while in custody, is finally back in the United States. But before he reunited with his family, he was subjected to one more interrogation without his lawyer.
FBI agents have detained and are interrogating Gulet Mohamed, an American teen who was detained in Kuwait for a month, without counsel at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, Mohamed’s lawyer said Friday morning.
Mohamed’s family and lawyer claim that Mohamed has asked FBI officials for counsel multiple times during previous questioning. US legal and constitutional restrictions generally require that custodial interrogations stop when a subject asks for his lawyer. That rule does not seem to have been followed in this case. Mohamed traveled to Yemen and Somalia, two hotbeds of anti-American extremism, in 2009 (to visit family and learn Arabic, his family says). But he has not been charged with a crime in any country.
Now, Baumann points out that interrogations should stop once an American asks for counsel.
Or at least that’s the way things used to be.
But as Justin Elliot reported yesterday, the Administration has changed its Miranda policy. Only, it hasn’t explained what the change entails.
The Obama administration has issued new guidance on use of the Miranda warning in interrogations of terrorism suspects, potentially chipping away at the rule that bars the government from using information in court if it was gathered before a suspect was informed of his right to remain silent and to an attorney.
But the Department of Justice is refusing to publicly release the guidance, with a spokesman describing it in an interview as an “internal document.” So we don’t know the administration’s exact interpretation of Miranda, even though it may have significantly reshaped the way terrorism interrogations are conducted.
Asked about the administration’s current stance on Miranda, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd sent along this statement about the new guidance that was sent to “relevant agencies”:
As demonstrated most recently after the attempted terrorist bombings last Christmas and in Times Square last spring, law enforcement has the ability to question suspected terrorists without immediately providing Miranda warnings when the interrogation is reasonably prompted by immediate concern for the safety of the public or the agents. Because of the complexity of the threat posed by terrorist organizations and the nature of their attacks — which can include multiple accomplices and interconnected plots — we have formalized guidance that outlines the appropriate use of the well-established public safety exception to providing Miranda rights. To ensure that law enforcement is aware of the flexibility that the law gives them in these circumstances, the guidance has been distributed to relevant agencies.
So are the repeated interrogations of Mohamed without counsel a sign of what DOJ has permitted?
Mind you, today’s interrogation was probably something much more similar. As the experience of Wikileaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, who has been interrogated at the border on three different occasions, shows, our government maintains it can subject anyone crossing into our country to this treatment.
Yet that doesn’t explain the interrogations in Kuwait, coming after Mohamed says he was beaten.
So should we conclude the new Miranda policy allows beating and interrogations with no counsel so long as they take place in other countries?