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Friday, May 07, 2010

There's been a lot of hot air spilled lately about whether Times Square smoke-bomber Faisal Shahzad should have been read his Miranda rights, with former anti-torture campaigner John McCain complaining that he was read his rights, and Glenn Beck, of all people, reminding us that Shahzad is a US citizen and that "we do not shred the Constitution just because it's popular."

Funny thing about Miranda rights: they generally do not stop the suspect from talking. Most Americans over the age of six can probably recite them: you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney etc. etc. etc. And there is absolutely no legal benefit to talking to the cops without an immunity agreement -- not even if you're innocent -- yet, as cops will tell you, very few suspects shut up.

This is amazing to me, like the 37 hours of TV the average American watches per week. But most suspects keep talking after they've been read their rights. And they generally incriminate themselves. Often because they want to make excuses.

That's why cops generally don't mind having to give the Miranda warnings, and only demogogues consider it an undue burden.

Everybody wants to tell their story. Especially villains.

Why? When you're a villain, who can you talk to? Unless you're in a terrorist cell, no one. You can't tell your family. They'd be worried. You can't tell your friends. They will report you.

But you think you're a hero, right? You're doing all this for Islam / freedom / Ireland / Chechnya / Dennis Kucinic. But you can't tell anyone. What's the point of being a hero if no one knows about it?

So after months or years of planning your crazy, homicidal heroic act of hate-filled wickedness resistance, the cops pick you up.

Finally, someone you can tell your story to! And the cops are all ears. Hey, talking to them will get you convicted. But honestly, like you were going to get acquitted?

Supervillains gotta monologue.

That's why, in the event, Shahzad talked to the FBI interrogators before being given his rights (like, c'mon, he didn't already know them from a million cop shows?). And then he waived his rights, and kept talking.

Stories are not a luxury good, as I keep telling the politicians. They are a basic human need. They are how we make sense of our lives.

Even -- especially -- bad guys.



Exactly. You can learn that by watching The First 48, a TV show that documents the first 48 hours of a murder investigation. Almost every episode ends with the cops breaking the murderer. It's fascinating to see how often people just want to tell someone what happened. They always try to make excuses, but they confess nine times out of ten.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 12:53 PM  

Isn't it sad when Glen Beck is the voice of reason?

By Blogger Tim W., at 4:27 PM  

This is why any lawyer will tell you not to talk to the police. Even someone completely clean-of-sin innocent could easily manage to say something that the police could use to convict them, because in the right light what they've said makes them sound guilty, regardless as to what they meant by it. People want to tell their stories, but the audience gets to decide what those stories might mean.

By Blogger Unknown, at 10:15 PM  

I heard someplace that when you screw up, you should just say "sorry" and offer no explanation, because explanations just cheapen apologies.

But it is so so so hard not to explain.

Try it--seriously...because when someone is looking you in the face with disgust, your every instinct screams COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE COMMUNICATE--of course you think, if only they understood why I did it, they would be on my side!

And hence the (self-destructive) blabbing.

By Blogger Sasha, at 2:02 PM  

Bear in mind that the environment an arrested suspect is placed in is designed to make them feel isolated, powerless, intimidated and disoriented. So naturally, a person's reaction is to try to communicate to try to feel more at ease.

Also, police are trained to get even the most recalcitrant suspects talking. Could be about anything at first. They will then use that information to probe what the suspect is saying, look for slight changes in the story perhaps, or pick up a stress in the voice.

If the patsy Shazad was not read his rights, then anything he said to the police cannot be introduced in court. But, that doesn't prevent the FBI from using that information to strengthen their case in other ways.

By Blogger daveed, at 2:29 PM  

that doesn't prevent the FBI from using that information to strengthen their case in other ways Actually it does. Any illegally obtained evidence taints all the evidence it leads to.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 2:53 PM  

Funny and well written.

By Blogger Mostly Foobar, at 3:22 PM  

@Alex: True, but there's a distinction between testimony (use of which Miranda regulates) and evidence.

If a suspect confesses to a crime while not having first been given Miranda Rights, that testimony might not be allowed in court. But actual physical evidence could still be admitted.

For instance, if Shazad said (sans Miranda), "I bought the truck that I used to house the bomb at such-and-such place", his testimony might not be introduced. However, law enforcement can legally pursue that lead to obtain evidence he made the purchase.

Miranda Rights only protect what a suspect says, not evidence they may have left in the commission of a crime.

By Blogger daveed, at 9:16 AM  

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