A new and troubling implication has come out about the treatment of alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. An article by the Los Angeles Times quotes a senior congressional aide that Tsarnaev had asked for a lawyer repeatedly but FBI agents interrogating him ignored the request several times. If this information is corroborated by other sources, it would be an enormous development regarding any evidence gained as a result of interrogation.
The Obama administration has invoked the "public safety" exemption, which allows them to continue question Tsarnaev, an American citizen, without informing him of his Miranda rights in relation to immediate threats to public safety. The exemption however does not let authorities completely ignore his Miranda rights if Tsarnaev chooses to invoke them, especially his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. If the authorities did purposefully ignore Tsarnaev request for a lawyer they may have opened several legal landmines that could weaken their case against him and any case against potential future suspects in the bombing in addition to the ethical issues that it raises.
The first legal issue that comes up is the so-called Edwards problem, based on the 1981 U.S. Supreme Court Case Edwards v. Arizona. The case established precedence that Miranda had been violated when law enforcement continued questioning after the suspect had requested counsel but was not provided it immediately. Thus, any confession earned during questioning is 100% inadmissible in a future trial.
The second and far more serious issue is a legal theory known as "fruit of the poisonous tree." A outgrowth on the exclusionary rule, which states that evidence gained in violation of a suspect's constitutional rights may be inadmissible in court, the theory states that any evidence obtained as a result of investigation of illegally obtained evidence would be inadmissible in court. The original illegal evidence poisons the fruit of additional evidence. The First Circuit Court, where Tsarnaev was charged, has applied fruit of the poisonous tree theory to violations of Miranda rights in the past.
When the Obama administration said Tsarnaev would be tried in a civilian court, they granted him all of the constitutional rights that he automatically gets as a U.S. citizen. Does this potential legal SNAFU vindicate those who said that Tsarnaev should be tried as a military combatant? Or does it reinforce that law enforcement must be vigilant in providing the legal protection afforded to all American citizens?
Let us know in the comments below!