Jewish World Review Sept. 16, 2011 / 17 Elul, 5771
Judge's ruling on Miranda rights in terrorism case touches off legal debate
David Ashenfelter and Tresa Baldas
ETROIT (MCT) A judge's decision Thursday to let prosecutors use a terrorism suspect's incriminating statements -- even though he wasn't read his rights -- has triggered a legal debate.
Some say it was the right call, because agents needed to find out quickly whether other suicide bombers were in the air. Others say the ruling sets a dangerous precedent that could open the door to coerced confessions.
The case involves Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, who goes on trial Oct. 11 on charges that he tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled Thursday that Abdulmutallab's statement, which he sought to have suppressed, was admissible.
"This is a slippery slope," Andrew Patel, a prominent New York City defense attorney, said of the FBI agents' decision to question a suspect without reading him his rights.
Patel, who has represented terrorism suspects, said he fears Miranda rights could eventually be ignored in run-of-the-mill cases.
"Where do we stop? Where's the line in the sand? How about the drunk driver?" he said, arguing that the decision could give police too much leeway in deciding what constitutes an emergency.
But Marcellus McRae, a defense lawyer in Los Angeles and former federal prosecutor, said Edmunds got it right in putting national security ahead of Miranda rights.
"This actually was a life and death situation," he said.
Though criminal defendants have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, he said, protecting human life is more compelling than advising someone of those rights.
Edmunds ruled Thursday that Abdulmutallab wasn't under the influence of the painkiller fentanyl when he told FBI agents he was an al-Qaida operative trying to blow up the jetliner. She also said Miranda rights weren't necessary because of the imminent threat to public safety.
"There was a national security exception … that excused the giving of Miranda warnings," she said.
Abdulmutallab's defense lawyer, Anthony Chambers, spent two days trying to shake the testimony of a nurse, FBI agent and Wayne State University pharmacologist who agreed Abdulmutallab was coherent during the interview.
Chambers tried to show that Abdulmutallab was under the influence of fentanyl and was confused when agents coercively questioned him in a hospital room.
Chambers said he's considering his options.
Peter Henning, a Wayne State law professor and former federal prosecutor, said Chambers can't appeal Edmunds' decision until after the trial.
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