Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Uneducated Defense

When I was younger, one of the things my parents taught me was ignorance was not an excuse. "I didn't know," didn't fly in my house.

I happen to hold the position that the Miranda ruling is incorrect - that every person has the responsibility to know his rights, and that it is not the role of the police or government agents to inform you of those rights. Their job is to enforce, protect, and not violate those rights.

A while back, a group of teens attacked a couple on a Baltimore MTA bus. Turned into a big news story.

The kids arrested, according to Gregory Kane of the Baltimore Sun, may have an interesting defense.
The juveniles accused of attacking Kreager, her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, and an MTA bus driver have that right, too. Tarud and the five lawyers defending the other juveniles contend their clients weren't properly Mirandized while they were in the custody of MTA Police. When the hearing started Jan. 31, each of the lawyers made a motion to have any statements their clients made to MTA Police detectives suppressed.

For the past week, in the courtroom of Judge David W. Young on the third floor of the Juvenile Justice Center, Tarud and five other defense attorneys have been grilling officers and detectives of the MTA Police force like steaks at a Fourth of July cookout. The lawyers wanted to know if their clients were handcuffed, and for how long. They wanted to know if they were provided with food or drink. The intent was to prove that the atmosphere in which the juveniles were detained was coercive, and certainly not one in which a juvenile could voluntarily waive his or her Miranda rights.

But Tarud and Barbara Greene, who represents another one of the girls, may have gotten to the heart of the matter: If these girls didn't understand simple words any middle-schooler should know, how would they understand Miranda rights?

Greene's client and Tarud's client were questioned by Detective Anjanette McBride of the MTA Police. As McBride talked to Tarud's client, she asked the girl if she thought the fight on the bus was justified. That's when the girl responded with the question on which this entire case might well hinge:

"What that mean?"

Tarud's client is 13; she's in middle school.

And she doesn't know what justified means.

When McBride read each Miranda right to Greene's client, the detective told the girl to put her initials after each statement to indicate she understood.

The girl didn't know what the word initial meant. McBride had to tell her. The girl was baffled again when McBride read the statement "I agree to answer questions, and I do not want an attorney at this time." McBride asked the girl, explicitly, if she wanted to talk to her. It was then that the girl said yes.

Greene was quick to challenge McBride: Why did she explain only the first part of the statement "I agree to answer questions, and I do not want an attorney at this time"? McBride answered that she assumed the girl understood the second portion.

But when students don't know words like justified and initial, it's safe to assume they neither know about - nor understand - Miranda either.

Not understanding the English Language might just be enough to get you out of trouble. At what point do we return to personal responsibility, the idea that if a 13 year old doesn't understand their rights, it's not the government's fault.

Although, I guess you could make the case it is.

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