THE MIRANDA RULE | Globe Editorial

No need to backtrack on rights

May 11, 2010

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THE ARREST OF Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomb suspect, showed the legal system at its best. Authorities employed their standard tools to apprehend and question Shahzad; there were no secret courts, no “black sites,’’ nothing that deprived Shahzad — an American citizen arrested on American soil — of his rights under the US Constitution.

Since then, however, Attorney General Eric Holder has signaled that the Obama administration would consider carving out a new terrorism-related exception to the Miranda rule, the law requiring that suspects be read their rights. Congress would set a sad precedent by passing a law that gives fewer rights to suspects in some cases, such as terrorism cases, than in others.

Under a well-established public-safety exception, authorities can already ask questions that could save lives before reading a suspect his or her Miranda rights. Shahzad was, in fact, questioned for hours before being read his rights. Had there had been other car bombs littered around Manhattan, finding them would have been the police’s highest priority.

Holder is wrong to suggest that new legislation is needed to create broader exceptions. The existing rules worked well with Shahzad: He provided what the FBI called “valuable intelligence and evidence’’ and even kept talking after hearing his rights. It’s unclear what problem Holder is proposing to solve.

Rather, the attorney general is offering a new version of an old, disturbing belief: that despite the presumption of innocence in the US justice system, some suspects should be shunted off to a different legal category without due process. Anyone arrested in the United States has a certain set of inalienable rights, and neither 9/11 nor any other awful act can change that.

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