The Languishing Public Safety Doctrine

55 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2018 Last revised: 26 Aug 2018

See all articles by Brian Gallini

Brian Gallini

Willamette University - College of Law

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

Gallini, Brian, The Languishing Public Safety Doctrine (May 1, 2016). Rutgers Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 3, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Brian Gallini (Contact Author)

Willamette University - College of Law ( email )

245 Winter St. SE
Salem, OR 97301
United States

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