William and Mary Law School

Jeffrey Bellin Speaks About the Prosecution of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect

Professor Jeffrey Bellin spoke on April 23 on "Hearsay with Cathy Lewis" on WHRV 89.5  (Norfolk's NPR affiliate) about legal issues surrounding the questioning and the unfolding legal case against the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.

Listen to the complete interview (begins at 35:45).

The fact that the suspect was not read his Miranda Rights is not surprising to legal experts, says Bellin.

"[T]here's actually a long-standing exception, about 25 years old to the requirement  ...  in a case in which the Supreme Court said that there's this 'public safety' exception .... And it's pretty straightforward. The case that it involved was someone had a gun, and then the police stopped him and found that he had a holster but couldn't find the gun at the moment of arrest. So, they asked "Where's the gun?"  And, later on, the Supreme Court said there's a 'public safety' exception. The officers did not have to first read [the suspect] his Miranda Rights and then ask where the gun was.  The legal rule says that if the police are asking questions 'necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public,' then there is not a requirement that the Miranda warnings be read prior to those questions. .... In a case like this, where there are questions like 'are there any more bombs, are there any more bombers out there,' that same ... reasoning ... [applies]."

However, the question as to whether or not the government would present the suspect to a magistrate judge right away is interesting, he says.

"... the government seems to have not really hesitated for a moment in their confidence that this case should be handled in a civilian court ... Not only would it be handled in a civilian court but that the authorities were going to follow the letter of the law and not push for any special rules in the civilian court.  ...  [here,] the [applicable] statute says [that someone who is arrested must be presented to a magistrate] 'without unnecessary delay.' In this case, [that] meant as soon as the [suspect] was well enough, [they had to] bring him before a magistrate ... [which] meant he would get an attorney. [The government] went beyond unnecessary delay and actually brought the magistrate to the hospital, which is not unheard of ... [but] the consequence of that decision is that [the suspect] was appointed an attorney and that obviously changes the interrogation dynamic a great deal."