Monthly Archives: April 2013

Did Authorities Violate Alleged Boston Bomber’s Rights by Not Reading Miranda Rights

When the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokar Tsarnev, was being sought, debate was roiling over whether or not authorities should read him his Miranda Warnings prior to questioning him, and whether he should be classified as an enemy combatant. The second argument did not go very far, as Mr. Tsarnev is a U.S. citizen, and is afforded the same rights as all citizens under the constitution, including due process and the right to an attorney. The more heated debate centered on whether he should be read Miranda.

The Justice Department stated their intention to not advise Mr. Tsarnev of his Miranda rights, saying that their questioning would be allowed under the public safety exception. All indications are that Mr. Tsarnev was not advised at the initiation of his interrogation, and that he has been communicating with law enforcement. The failure to read Miranda does not mean that authorities could not question him, but typically any statements obtained from such a custodial interrogation could not be used against him in court. Such statements were not admissible under the Miranda ruling by the Supreme Court, until they carved out the public safety exception in a case known as New York v. Quarles. The Quarles decision in 1984 drew a very narrow exception for questions in the interest of public safety. In that case, Mr. Quarles had been detained after ditching a firearm, and the officer asked a few questions about the whereabouts of the gun prior to reading Mr. Quarles his Miranda. The court found that under those facts, an exception was proper, and the state could use those statements in the prosecution of the case against him.

The FBI latched onto the idea of the public safety exception, and spent some time reviewing and planning when they felt they might be able to use it to avoid the reading of Miranda. They produced an internal memo in 2010 outlining which circumstances they could cite the exception to avoid the Miranda reading. The New York Times obtained a copy of that memo and published it in 2011. This presents several logistical problems, as well as a concern that the FBI has made a concerted effort to deny detainees their Constitutional rights.

The public safety exception, as outlined by Quarles, is limited to a very narrow set of facts and circumstances. Justice Rehnquist specifically discussed  that there was an element of spontaneity involved when suspects are arrested in the field as Mr. Quarles was. That does not appear to fit the facts of Mr. Tsarnev’s situation. Rehnquist contrasts those questions in the field to the inherently coercive nature of interrogation in the confines of a police station house. There is a danger for the government that there was a coercive nature to Mr. Tsarnev’s custodial interrogation in the hospital, where he was undoubtedly tied down and confronted by multiple trained interrogators who had time to formulate their questions. The FBI memo attempts to broaden the scope of the public safety exception, but such internal memos carry no force of law. It’s possible that interrogators’ reliance on the FBI’s interpretation of the exception could taint Tsarnev’s statement; and a judge might refuse to admit those statements. This may not be a major issue in Tsarnev’s case, as the government may feel they have enough evidence against him without needing to rely on his statements. They certainly will be challenged by the Defense if the case ends up going to trial, as the facts of Mr. Tsarnev’s interrogation do not fit the facts of Quarles and its narrow exception.

It is possible the court could further expand the public safety exception. The Quarles language is very limited and fact specific, but it is easy to imagine situations where such an exception would be appropriate. Imagine a scenario where terrorists are planning to detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and are on the verge of doing so (a Jack Bauer situation). What if agents were able to capture a conspirator who had information about how to stop the imminent attack: would we want them to advise the terrorist he didn’t have to talk to them? In such a hypothetical, the public interest would be better served by allowing the interrogation to proceed, unadvised. The public interest would favor the greater good of seeking information to protect more people from harm, and could still be a limited enough public safety exception to warrant abuse from overly broad interrogations. I recognize the slippery-slope concern of further abrogating Miranda, but it might be appropriate under limited factual circumstances. As it is, the government has rarely attempted to claim the public safety exception, so there is not a great body of law on the subject. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Charges Dropped Against Ricin Suspect – Elvis Impersonator

Paul Kevin Curtis was arrested for allegedly send letters laced with the poison Ricin to President Obama, Senator Wicker, and a judge. Federal prosecutors dropped those charges for a lack of evidence, and are apparently pursuing other leads. The judge has formally entered a dismissal of the charges against him.

It appears that authorities simply jumped the gun on Mr. Curtis’ arrest, with a scarcity of evidence actually linking him to the letters. This may be a frame-up, as the letters claimed to be sent from “KC”, which is how people know Mr. Curtis. Additionally, the letters contained language that he has been known to use, including similarity to posts on Facebook. They were very clearly trying to implicate him, and were successful in getting him arrested.

A review of the complaint and supporting affidavit reveal an implication of Mr. Curtis, but simply do not indicate any evidence demonstrating that he sent the letters. Mere implication should not be enough for charges to be brought, and its unfortunate that Mr. Curtis has been named in formal documents as the culprit. Apparently authorities have searched someone else’s property, but have not yet named that person a suspect, so I’m not identifying him at this time. After this grave error, I think the authorities will do their due diligence before an arrest is made.

Killers Sentenced for the Murder of Mary Ann Zarb


Shane Simpkins

Shane Simpkins

Shane Simpkins, who was convicted at trial a few weeks ago for the murder of Estero grandmother Mary Ann Zarb, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday. His co-defendant, Christopher Neuberger was also sentenced . However, Neuberger’s plea was pursuant to a negotiated deal with the state. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by ten years probation, in part thanks to his agreeing to testify against Simpkins. Without his testimony, it would have been difficult for the prosecutors to tie Simpkins to the actual killing.

Christopher Neuberger

Christopher Neuberger

Previous Crimcourts coverage of Simpkins’ trial:

Amanda Knox Speaks to People Magazine About Her Ordeal

The online version is pretty limited, so you may have to pick up a hard copy of the magazine, but Amanda Knox did an extensive interview with People this week. Her memoir is due out at the end of the month, so this may be one of many promotional exercises. You can read the online story here:,,20691830,00.html

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox

Florida Passes Law to Limit Drone Usage

The Dragonflyer X6, Unmanned Drone

The Dragonflyer X6, Unmanned Drone

A bill was passed and is on the way to the governor that would limit drone usage by law enforcement. It prohibits law enforcement from using unmanned aircraft to gather evidence unless they first obtain a warrant, or if other exceptions apply, such as tracking a fleeing suspect or to prevent imminent protection of life. Also, it creates a cause of action, meaning that an aggrieved party can sue for violations of this law by the government. This law is a definite victory for the protection of individual privacy rights in Florida. One of the co-introducers of the bill is Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto, the Senator for much of Southwest Florida.

UCF Student, Shooting Suspect Has Charges Dropped: Eyewitness ID Was Faulty

Three eyewitnesses erroneously identified Julian Butler, a 21-year old UCF student, as the shooter who fired into a crowd in Gifford, Florida, striking two victims on March 31. His attorney was able to demonstrate that he was not even in town at the time of the shooting, through surveillance video and a receipt from a store in Orlando. Eyewitness identification is one of the least reliable forms of evidence, and proved to be dead wrong in this case, in spite of 3 separate IDs. Police continue to search for the real shooter, and welcome any assitance from anyone who may have information about  the case. Kudos to the law enforcement working on the case to act relatively quickly to get Mr. Butler released. Thanks to Joe for the heads up on this story.

Lee County Stand Your Ground Case to Be on Dr. Phil, Wednesday

We previously covered the Domestic Violence Case where Vincent DeLuca was stabbed my Amanda Arruda. She was charged with Aggravated Battery, and her attorney, Janese Caruthers, filed a Stand Your Ground motion for immunity, alleging that she was justified in defending herself. After an evidentiary hearing on the motion, the Judge found her to be justified in stabbing Mr. DeLuca, and dismissed the case against her. In his ruling, the court found his testimony not to be credible, and found her testimony to be credible and supported by the physical evidence presented in court.

It was a dramatic case, as the stabber who was accused of the crime was ultimately determined by the court to be the victim of the offense. The case was dramatic enough that Dr. Phil has filmed it for a segment, which is slated to air Wednesday, 4/17. Crimcourts will recap, but it appears to be worth watching. Check out the trailer: