Criminals Beware: Big Brother & Others Are Watching You

Criminals Beware: Big Brother & Others Are Watching You

In my previous blog post, I discussed how “big brother” uses technology to investigate crimes.  Just weeks later, TV and news outlets blasted headlines around the world about the most infamous crime since 9/11: the Boston Marathon Bombings.  In the space of only a few short days, law enforcement – aided heavily by public participation – identified the two suspects, killing one and capturing the other.

Boston Bombing Manhunt

Technology was key in the speedy resolution of the manhunt that had Boston on edge and the nation and the world riveted to news bulletins.  Not only did law enforcement use the latest, high-tech devices at its own disposal, but authorities were able to rely on almost immediately available surveillance photos and video by private businesses and ordinary citizen-witnesses at and near the blast scenes.  Just over 72 hours after the bombings, these high-resolution images of the perpetrators were displayed on TV screens everywhere.

The most curious feature of these recent events is that these criminals seemed entirely unaware that their faces and actions would be recorded and made available to law enforcement.  Suspects Tamarlen and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, in the few days after the crime until they were apprehended, casually went about their everyday activities – in full public view.

At a public event of such importance as the Boston Marathon, with friends and families gathered to record their loved ones’ running feats at the finish line, there was no shortage of photos of the suspects carrying and placing the bombs.  This evidence was transmitted right away to police.
This immediately available material is a bonanza for public safety and the criminal justice system. Although there were eyewitnesses to the crime – including one of the injured victims who saw Dzokhar place one of the bombs at his feet just seconds before the explosion – this contemporaneous, highly reliable photo evidence eliminates the problems inherent in eyewitness testimony – that is, impaired memory and vision and the excitement and distractions of the moment.

GPS technology also played a role in the apprehension of Tamarlen Tsarnaev a few days later – unfortunately, too late for an MIT campus police officer.  The brothers had carjacked a Mercedes. When the owner was able to escape and report the incident to police, law enforcement was able to use the satellite tracking device in the vehicle to find the vehicle and the perpetrators.

There are no constitutional problems with the collection and use of evidence like the photos and videos, the GPS technology, and social media postings.  There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public places and on the internet.

Public Safety Exception

There was, though, one issue of constitutional significance in connection with this case:  whether or not to immediately read the sole surviving suspect his Miranda Rights, informing him of his right to counsel.  Ordinarily, when a suspect is apprehended, law enforcement must give Miranda warnings immediately if they intend on interrogating the suspect.  There are certain exceptions, though, in emergency situations.

One such situation is the “public safety” exception.  If there is good reason to believe that there may be additional crimes about to be committed – including other bomb plots – authorities have a short window in which to interrogate the suspect without reading him his rights to counsel and to remain silent.  Almost as soon as Dhokar Tsarnaev was taken into custody, there were very public discussions in the news media about whether this could be an appropriate situation to invoke this “public safety” exception.

Law enforcement did, indeed, invoke this “public safety” doctrine and did not immediately read the suspect his rights.  The Miranda warnings were not given until the suspect’s first court appearance; the federal magistrate, herself, read him his rights.  In any event, the younger Tsarnaev was apparently eager to talk and explain his “rationale” for these horrific bombings.  If you are suspected of a crime or know police have been contacted concerning possible illegal actions on your part, do not post anything concerning these actions on any social media outlet – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, MySpace or YouTube.  Instead, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney and discuss the matter with only your attorney.

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Sources:

USA Today (online, 7:32 p.m. EDT April 22, 2013), Kevin Johnson et al, “Case against bombing suspect based on videa, photos,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/04/22/boston-marathon-bombing-charges-federal-dzkokhar-tsarnaev/2103519/

CNN.com (online, updated Mon April 22, 2013, 5:15 pm) Ann O’Neill et al, “As Boston reeled, younger bombing suspect partied,” www.cnn.com/2013/4/20/us/boston/-younger-bombing-suspect-partied

Boston Globe (online edition, 4/20/2013 1:22 am) Shelley Murphy, et al,  “Marathon bombing suspect captured in watertown; condition ‘serious’
CNN.com, (online, April 19th, 2013, 10:47 PM ET) Boston bombings: “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over,’ police say,  http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/19/live-blog-police-action-in-boston/comment-page-12/

Boston Globe (online edition, 4/20/2013 1:22 am) Shelley Murphy, et al,  “Marathon bombing suspect captured in watertown; condition ‘serious’
http://www.boston.com/metrodesk/2013/04/18/search-for-marathon-bombing-suspect-locks-down-watertown-surrounding-communities/UAbtwLVGLwBE5VI7BUyQuL/story.html