Failed Terrorist Attack Could Prompt Change in Miranda Rights Law

May 17, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

US President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder(Rt) honoring fallen police officers from around the US that died in the line of duty, on the West Lawn of the US Capitol, May 13.  (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )
US President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder(Rt) honoring fallen police officers from around the US that died in the line of duty, on the West Lawn of the US Capitol, May 13. (Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )
In the wake of the attempted Times Square bombing, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration are considering possible revisions to Miranda warning—the rights given to suspects charged with criminal offenses. The revisions would be for terrorist suspects and criminals.

Attorney General Holder stressed the importance of flexibility with the Miranda warning specific to the public safety exception on Meet the Press last Sunday.

“We certainly need more flexibility, and we want the public safety exception to be consistent with the public safety concerns that we now have in the 21st century as opposed to the public safety concerns that we had back in the 1980s,” said Holder in the interview.

Claiming that Miranda warning is outdated, Holder pressed the need to revise it to make it more in line with modern safety concerns.

“The public safety exception was really based on a robbery that occurred back in the eighties … having something to do with a supermarket,” said Holder. “We’re now dealing with international terrorists. I think that we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face.”

During a May 11 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would be taking a look at the law and the recent interest in its alterations, also emphasizing “flexibility.”

“The president is a believer in this law, and that’s why—despite a lot of armchair quarterbacking from people with not a lot of experience in interrogation have brought this up,” said Gibbs during the press briefing. “But the president is committed to it and ensuring that we have protections, as well as flexibility.”

The talk of an alteration to the Miranda warning has alarmed many Americans, including several renowned FBI agents and human rights organizations such as Human Rights First.

Former FBI agents Jim Clement, Jack Cloonan, and Joe Navarro, all of whom have more than 25 years of experience interrogating federal criminals, wrote a letter to President Obama asking that he not alter the Miranda warning that have been in effect since 1966.

“As professional interrogators who have spent decades questioning accused criminals—including spies and terrorists—we are writing to make clear that interrogators can do their job using the existing Miranda rules,” they said in the letter. “No changes are necessary. In fact, changes might do more harm than good.”

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Navarro added that he feels it is a political move.

“It’s not the investigators or interviewers that are asking for a modification in Miranda,” said Navarro by telephone. “It is the politicians. That’s what is so interesting about it. For good investigators Miranda is not a problem when it comes to obtaining information and getting convictions. There is already enough existing case law to allow you to adapt Miranda.”

A senior associate in the Law and Security program at Human Rights First, Daphne Eviatar, also expressed concern over changes to Miranda Rights.

According to Eviatar, Attorney General Holder’s claim that Miranda is outdated and needs to be modified to accommodate modern needs is unfounded.

“Miranda wasn’t created to address any specific type of crime,” said Eviatar. “It applies to all crime. Any of the terrorism related charges that they are talking about all fall under the criminal code and they’ve been under the criminal code for a very long, long time.”

She added that terrorism itself has existed for a long time.

“It is not correct to say that when the Miranda was written that these sorts of crimes didn’t exist. They did and they were taken into account.”

The Fifth amendment in the U.S. Constitution has long defended Americans against double jeopardy, given people the right to remain silent at the time of arrest, and provided potential criminals the right to a fair trial. Navarro calls it “the law of the land.”

Alteration to the Miranda warning could be determined unconstitutional but a gray area in the debate may arise from the section discussing exemption for times of war. According to Eviatar, determining the constitutionality of modifications to Miranda would raise more questions than it would answer.

Several minority groups are also concerned that his new alteration to the Miranda warning could increase cases of alleged racial profiling against Muslim and Middle Eastern citizens.