Terror Suspect Christopher Cornell
20-year-old Christopher Cornell was arrested a few weeks back for buying weapons for a planned attack on the White House and Congress. It was shocking in part, because the young man grew up in suburban Cincinnati, he graduated from the same high school that I did, where he competed on the wrestling team. He is facing multiple federal charges for his terrorism-related activities.
The story took a bizarre twist this week when Cornell contacted the local Fox affiliate, Fox 19, and longtime reporter and anchor Tricia Macke. He gave Macke an interview of about an hour via telephone from his Butler County jail cell. The interview is disturbing: Cornell details that if he had not been arrested, he would have shot the president and set off bombs in the Capitol and near the Israeli embassy. He states explicitly that he bought the guns with the intent of committing the acts.
The admissions are devastating for his defense in the pending criminal action, and his attorney sought to prevent Fox 19 from airing the interview. At issue was a court order from Cornell’s bond hearing that ordered no contact with him. At the hearing, the Defense attorney accused the reporter of criminal contempt for contacting him, although it was Cornell who initiated contact with Fox and Ms. Macke.
The First Amendment grants a great deal of freedom to the press to disseminate information that they have, and even gives Cornell a right to speak his mind. While the statements he made are extremely incriminating and devastating to his defense on the case, he has a right to say them. The court upheld that right and found the no contact order to be vague and unconstitutional. Generally, the court doesn’t have standing to order journalists not to interview news suspects: the initial order was probably more intended to protect Cornell’s right to remain silent. However; it’s his right and he can waive it. Kudos to Fox 19 for standing up for the First Amendment.
Posted in Criminal Law, Federal, First Amendment, Ohio, Terror
Tagged boone county, Christopher Cornell, cincinnati, fox 19, green township, oak hills, terrorism, tricia macke
- But, did they read Miranda his rights?
British law enforcement detained Brazilian national David Miranda for 7 hours at an airport, under a provision of an anti-terror law from 2000. The United States was notified, but U.S. officials claim not to have directed the detention, but they were apparently notified that he was going to be passing through the airport. Miranda is the partner of a journalist who published information leaked by Edward Snowden. At this time, there has been no indication of wrongdoing, much less terrorist activities, on the part of Mr. Miranda. Brazil has already diplomatically expressed their concern about their citizen being detained in this way. However, his computer and other electronic property was seized. In addition to the concern about detaining an individual for such species reasons, there is a concern about the chilling effect this may cause to the press. The Guardian, where Mr. Miranda’s partner works, has already expressed concern.
We’ve been covering the story about the Ricin poisoning case, and the government’s incorrect arrest of the WRONG person: an Elvis impersonator who was apparently framed for the terror charge. However, the Daily Show put Crimcourts to shame with their segment on the mis-arrest and subsequent exoneration of Mr. Paul Kevin Curtis. I’d like to think this is how funny my story on the case would be if I could write all the time without having to worry about my day job…
We covered the erroneous arrest and subsequent release of the man erroneously charged with sending the Ricin letters to President Obama and others: an Elvis impersonator named Paul Kevin Curtis. Curtis has been exonerated and all charges dropped. The arrest of new suspect James Dutschke, who was an acquaintance with some history of disagreement, suggests that he may have framed Curtis by attributing the letters to him. But let’s not jump to conclusions, the government has already made one major blunder in this case by arresting the wrong guy without any direct evidence.
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.
Posted in 5th Amendment - Miranda Rights, Criminal Law, Federal, New York, Supreme Court, Terror, Uncategorized
Tagged bomb, boston, Dzhokar Tsarnev, marathon, miranda, quarles, terrorism
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.