Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Another Close One

The Los Angeles Times made an important point today: it's not just the CIA which has been ignoring the constitutional rights of those being detained by our government.

Last week, the Supreme Court forcefully reminded federal law enforcement agents that they can't stall for time in hopes that a suspect will break. By a 5-4 vote, the court [overturned] the bank robbery conviction of a Pennsylvania man brought before a judicial officer nearly 30 hours after his arrest, despite the fact that FBI agents shared an office building with federal magistrates. By that time, Johnnie Corley had waived his Miranda rights and signed a confession.

Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the delay violated past Supreme Court decisions and a 1968 federal law saying that a suspect's confession should be considered voluntary if it is "made or given within six hours immediately following his arrest or other detention." Four dissenters, led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that the six-hour provision was overridden by other language in the law allowing the admission in court of a confession that is "voluntarily given." But Souter noted that if that were the case, Congress would have had no reason to include the provision.

Delaying arraignment so that the police can work over a suspect until they get the confession they want is wrong for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that too often such confessions obtained during extended interrogations (whether "enhanced" or not) are false confessions, designed only to end the questions and the threat of physical harm. The last eight years have established that.

Just as important, however, is that anyone being held by the police has a right to have the specific charges against him or her spelled out and the basis for those charges examined by an independent member of the judiciary as quickly as possible. Throwing people into a black hole indefinitely without charge and without access to counsel and a judge is inconsistent with democracy.

That this was a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court is disheartening, but certainly not surprising, given all the dry powder that accumulated in the Democrats' weapons cache during the Bush years.

At least the Los Angeles Times editorial board understands the importance of such constitutional guarantees.



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