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Matters of Public Safety and the Current Quarrel Over the Scope of the Quarles Exception to Miranda

39 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2010 Last revised: 16 Mar 2010

Rorie Norton

Fordham Law Review

Date Written: February 21, 2010


In October 1984, the Burger Court set forth an exception to the Miranda doctrine in New York v. Quarles permitting officers to intentionally abstain from administering Miranda warnings to suspects where a threat to the safety of the public, or officers, exists. However, latent ambiguity arising from the Quarles opinion authored by Justice William Rehnquist has resulted in a split among the U.S. Courts of Appeals as to what constitutes a “public safety threat.” Some courts broadly extend the Quarles exception to inherently dangerous situations, including the threat of an officer mishandling an undiscovered weapon. Other courts narrowly apply Quarles to exigent circumstances where there is actual evidence that a suspect or other third party could inflict immediate harm to officers or the public.

As the only exception permitting an intentional violation of Miranda, this circuit split concerning the scope of the Quarles exception poses a substantial threat to the ongoing role of Miranda in the criminal justice system. In light of this conflict and the possible repercussions, this Note endorses the narrow approach as the most consistent with the language and intent of Quarles. It further proposes a formal, three-prong test for applying the Quarles exception that requires officers to have actual knowledge of an immediate threat, with all pre-Miranda suspect questioning objectively evaluated to ensure that it is narrowly tailored to that threat. Finally, this Note concludes by justifying its proposed test as the best method to ensure uniformity in the future application of Quarles among the lower courts and to prevent the exception from being applied in a manner threatening to the Miranda doctrine.

Keywords: Miranda, Miranda v. Arizona, Public Safety Exception, Quarles Exception, New York v. Quarles

JEL Classification: K10, K14

Suggested Citation

Norton, Rorie, Matters of Public Safety and the Current Quarrel Over the Scope of the Quarles Exception to Miranda (February 21, 2010). Fordham Law Review, Vol. 78, pp. 1931-1969, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Rorie Norton (Contact Author)

Fordham Law Review ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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