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Terrorism Prosecutions in Federal Court: Exceptions to Constitutional Evidence Rules and the Development of a Cabined Exception for Coerced Confessions


Norman Abrams


UCLA Law School

March 19, 2012

UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 11-14

Abstract:     
In this paper, we examine a series of special constitutional evidence rules that can be used in criminal enforcement against terrorists. Some of these rules expressly apply to terrorism cases; others contain an exigent circumstance element that can be adapted to terrorism contexts, and we so recommend. Building on the foundation provided by these special rules, we also propose a brand new exception in the area of coerced confessions.

Specifically, in the first Part of the paper, four existing "exceptions" to constitutional rules of evidentiary admissibility are examined — relating to fourth amendment protections, compulsory process, confrontation and Miranda. The first two of these exceptions were originally developed in connection with terrorism investigations; the second two apply to situations involving exigent circumstance-public safety concerns. The paper endorses the extension of one of these latter exceptions to terrorism investigations — namely, the public safety exception to the requirement of Miranda warnings. (Consistent with this recommendation, recently-made-public FBI guidelines have adapted this exception for use in interrogating suspected terrorists.) We also propose that the second of these public safety exceptions be extended to apply in terrorism investigations.

The second part of the paper, building on the described existing and proposed terrorism investigation exceptions, proposes and makes the case for the creation of a new exception relating to a fifth constitutional admissibility doctrine, one involving a hallowed area of constitutional criminal procedure — coerced confessions. A cabined exception is proposed, that is, one which, in exigent circumstances and to gather intelligence relevant to terrorism prevention, would apply an exception. It would allow government agents to utilize non-extreme police interrogation methods, the use of which, under existing supreme court precedents, might otherwise have been ruled to violate the Constitution.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 65

Keywords: terrorism prosecutions, civilian trials, exceptions to constitutional evidence rules, confrontation, electronic surveillance, compulsory process, Quarles, coerced confessions

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Date posted: May 24, 2011 ; Last revised: March 23, 2012

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Norman, Terrorism Prosecutions in Federal Court: Exceptions to Constitutional Evidence Rules and the Development of a Cabined Exception for Coerced Confessions (March 19, 2012). UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 11-14. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1846963

Contact Information

Norman Abrams (Contact Author)
UCLA Law School ( email )
Box 951476
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
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