The argument is raging on all the news channels. Do we have to read Dzhokar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights? Sen. John McCain and others are insisting that he can be treated as “an enemy combatant” or that the “public safety” exemption can be applied. While I disagree that both premises are valid, that’s not the point of this blog post. I’ll concede for purposes of this article that a reasonable argument can be made that Tsarnaev is not entitled to these rights because he is a terrorist, but the issue is Why?
Last time I checked, the rap on why terrorists do what they do is the they “Hate our way of life,” they “Hate our Freedom.” The Constitutional rights we give to criminal defendants is integral to our way of life and principal to our freedom from government over-reaching. Tsarnaev is an American citizen who committed a crime on American soil. He should be given all the rights granted to us in the Bill of Rights. If these rights can be taken away from him how can we guarantee that they won’t be taken away form another person who commits a crime here with some connection to a foreign interest. (not that there’s any evidence yet released that Tsarnaev’s crime was connected to a foreign interest). In addition to the talking heads, many folks (including friends of mine) have posted on Facebook that they can’t believe we will have to spend money to try a him and get him a lawyer, etc. He should have been shot in the boat, he should be hung from Copley Square, he should be made to join his brother, etc etc. But there’s a lot more to the true American way of life than gorging on food court meals in some Mega Mall. Many of the people who are making these posts are the same ones who hold the Founding Fathers as omniscient demi-gods whose original words must forever be the guiding principles of our society. Well, these rights were in their top ten list. Criminal defense rights make up a significant part of the Bill of Rights. Because Adams, Jefferson and Franklin all realized that the government’s greatest power is the ability to lock up those who may oppose its positions or speak up against its policies. They carefully crafted a series of protections to insure that those accused of crimes had written guarantees to create a system that protects the innocent and provide fairness even to the guilty. We stop upholding those principles, or choosing when and where to apply them and the terrorists win. With each right we remove or weaken we will become more like the tyrannical countries or regimes or regions they come from.
But enough waving of the flag, there is also a practical reason to treat Tsarnaev like any other criminal defendant. Why give him an issue for appeal? Let’s face it, this guy is toast. The evidence against him is clear and overwhelming. You can resurrect Clarence Darrow and it won’t help him. Sure we would love to get some information from him, but is it worth doing at the risk of giving him an appellate issue? His lawyer will probably try to work out a deal where he gives information in exchange for life without parole instead of the death penalty. We can argue whether that’s a good deal in a later post. My point here is this case is one the world will be watching and where our system will be put to the test. Let’s pass with flying colors, let’s show the world that we put our money where our mouth is. A fair public trial, with all the rights afforded by the Constitution will say more about our American way of life and our resiliency than a thousand “Boston Strong ” memes will.