Miranda rights may fall prey to U.S. War on Terrorism

    The War on Terrorism has found a new target — the American public’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, aka the Miranda warning.

    Forty-six years ago in Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all suspects must be read their rights to remain silent as a check against police abuse and infringement on constitutional rights.

    Once again, the battle over the Fifth Amendment is taking place in the Supreme Court, but now it’s considering the legitimacy of Miranda warnings in a post-9/11 world.

    The two sides before the Supreme Court consist of the city of Oxnard, Calif., backed by the U.S. Justice Department, and the blind and paraplegic farmer Oliverio Martinez, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

    On Dec. 4, the Supreme Court heard the case of Chavez v. Martinez, with the government appealing the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and arguing that there is no absolute Fifth Amendment right to be free of coercive interrogation.

    So who will win? More importantly, who should win?

    The facts of the case are as follows:

    On Nov. 28, 1997, Martinez was on his bike when he was stopped and frisked by two police officers who then found a knife on him. A struggle ensued, with the officers claiming that Martinez went for their guns, and Martinez was shot. One bullet rendered Martinez blind; four more bullets struck his legs and back, paralyzed his legs. Martinez was then handcuffed. While in the ambulance, Sgt. Ben Chavez began a taped interrogation without giving the Miranda warning.

    According to the Associated Press’ Dec. 2 report by Linda Deutch, Martinez is heard screaming on the tape, “”I am dying! … What are you doing to me?”” For the next 45 minutes, Chavez continued his interrogation, even after being asked by Martinez to stop and being instructed several times by the medical personnel to leave.

    The 9th Circuit Court held that Chavez should have known that questioning a man who had been shot five times, was crying out for medical treatment and had been given no Miranda warning was a violation of his constitutional rights. The court concluded that the confession was coerced and that it could not be used as evidence against Martinez in his excessive-force civil case against the city.

    Upon examination of the Justice Department’s friend-of-the-court brief, it is clear that the government is using the Martinez case as a jumping board to introduce its objectives to reduce all constitutionally perceived obstacles — i.e. the Miranda warning — in its continued War on Terrorism.

    An expert quoted in the AP article mentioned above stated, “”A ruling that minimizes defendants’ rights would be useful to the Bush administration … in its questioning of terrorism suspects.””

    The government argues that the decision of the 9th Circuit Court’s “”[recognition] of a broad new right to be free of coercive questioning irrespective of the use to which resulting statements are put … creates a serious risk of chilling the responsiveness of law enforcement when it matters most — in the face of an immediate threat to public safety.””

    Translated into today’s security-conscious context, the government’s argument is centered on one main principle: empowering and enlarging the federal government’s arsenal in its War on Terrorism so that nothing, not even the constitutionally required Miranda warning, can interfere with the use of all available means to go after a suspected terrorist to stop a potential attack.

    The distinction the government tries to make is that as long as the confession is not used to incriminate the suspect at trial, and is used for other purposes, it must be allowed.

    Don’t be fooled, for the government’s bottom line is far more sinister — the government is essentially demanding that if the Supreme Court persists in keeping the Miranda safeguard, it must recognize a terrorist exception to the Miranda warning.

    Clearly, the government’s solution to preventing further terrorist attacks is to just throw out the constitution when it comes to those individuals suspected of terrorism.

    But who is a terrorist? And who is rightly bestowed with a terrorist label — one who is guilty or one who is accused? It seems that all it takes under the Bush administration’s framework is mere suspicion to erase your fundamental rights.

    But what happened to “”innocent until proven guilty””? Will that constitutional safeguard also be exempted for those who, rightly or mistakenly, fall under suspicion of being a terrorist? If so, where does this free-fall of fundamental rights end?

    To entrust the government with such limitless power is so inherently dangerous that it takes either a moron or a despot to even contemplate such a reckless act.

    Governments have consistently shown themselves to be unreliable custodians of our fundamental rights, which is why the framers of the Constitution fashioned the Bill of Rights as a shield against arbitrary, dangerous powers.

    Our Constitution has successfully weathered a bloody Civil War and two world wars, yet now it must be allowed to crack and be dismantled for the War on Terrorism to be successful?

    What a bunch of rubbish.

    The hysteria may have diminished since 9/11, but the scars and insecurities remain. It is upon this legacy of insecurities that the government now preys, until all that we will be left with is a mere skeleton of our original Constitution.

    To be free from coercive government interrogation is an absolute right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment and must be upheld. Even in the face of impending terrorist attacks, our constitutional rights must remain, for once exceptions are made for one class of people, the right has been compromised for all and it is only a matter of time before another cut here or there will render the right completely useless.

    The forecast, however, is decidedly grim with the current Supreme Court, which will likely carve out a terrorist exception or completely tossing Miranda. This constitutional betrayal will have chilling fallout, without a way to reverse it. So don’t be surprised when we finally awaken from our 9/11-induced slumber to find all that remains is a hollowed-out ghost of a Constitution.

    Then all that will be left to do is hold a memorial service for the Constitution whose death certificate reads Sept. 11, 2001.

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