The Languishing Public Safety Doctrine
55 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2018 Last revised: 26 Aug 2018
Date Written: May 1, 2016
Every semester, law students across the country read New York v. Quarles in criminal procedure. The Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Quarles established the public safety exception—the first and only exception to the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona. But at the time of Quarles’s issuance, no one could have predicted just how long it would sit untouched by the Supreme Court.
Application of Quarles to high profile defendants like James Holmes and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev illustrate the need for more clarity in the context of applying the public safety exception. Mores specifically, those cases demonstrate why the Supreme Court needs to re-examine Quarles—particularly the application of Quarles to Holmes, a state-based investigation. The modern Supreme Court has recently examined intricate questions surrounding Miranda custody, Miranda waiver, and even invocation of the right to silence. But, quizzically, in the intervening years since Quarles’s issuance, and despite numerous opportunities, the Court has not similarly confronted critical questions surrounding the public safety exception’s scope and limits.
As the Holmes example specifically illustrates, the need for Supreme Court review has never been more important. Consider that federal authorities thought Tsarnaev was a terrorist in a way that state authorities did not think about Holmes. To the extent that the views of state prosecutors in Holmes foretell a change in state investigations (where the majority of Quarles litigation takes place), then that matters in a way different from what may happen in a comparatively smaller number of federal terror investigations.
Keywords: criminal procedure, public safety, supreme court, courts, crime
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation