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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | November 24, 2002

Bushies support efforts to kill Miranda

High Court to Hear Miranda Challenge:

The Supreme Court in its landmark Miranda opinion ruled that police must respect the rights of people who are held for questioning. Officers must warn them of their right to remain silent, and, equally important, honor their refusal to talk further.

But that widely known rule is about to be reconsidered in the high court in the case of a farm worker here who was shot five times after a brief encounter with police. Legal experts say the case has the potential to reshape the law governing everyday encounters between police and the public.

At the root of this case?
Two officers, Andrew Salinas and Maria Pena, had stopped to question a man they suspected, wrongly it turned out, of selling drugs. When they heard a squeaky bike approach in the dark, they called for the rider to stop.

Martinez dismounted and put his hands over his head. In a leather sheath on a waist band, he carried a long knife that he used to cut strawberries.

When the officer patted him down and grabbed for the knife, Martinez tried to run. Salinas tackled him and tried to handcuff him. As they struggled on the ground, the officer called out that the man had a huge knife. Pena moved closer and fired.


When patrol supervisor Sgt. Ben Chavez arrived, a handcuffed Martinez lay bleeding on the ground. Once Martinez was loaded into an ambulance, Chavez climbed in with a tape recorder in hand.

On and off for the next 45 minutes in the ambulance and at the hospital, he repeatedly asked the gravely wounded man to admit he had grabbed the officer's gun and provoked the struggle. In agony, Martinez is heard screaming in pain and saying he is choking and dying.

"OK. You're dying. But tell me why you were fighting with the police?" Chavez asks. "Did you want to kill the police or what?" he continues. One officer had said Martinez tried to grab his gun.


In the emergency room, he is heard asking Chavez several times to leave him alone. "I don't want to say anything anymore."

"No? You don't want to say what happened?" the sergeant continues.

"It's hurting a lot. Please!" Martinez implores, his words trailing off into agonized screams. Undaunted, Chavez resumes. "Well, if you're going to die, tell me what happened."

Two kickers: the Justice Department has filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging the dismantling of Miranda. (To help fight the "war on terrorism", of course.) The other kicker is this:
The pro-police advocates say that torturing a suspect, or perhaps denying him food and water for an extended period of time, would be unconstitutional. They say that "shocking" or "brutal" police conduct could be punished.

However, "the fact that a federal appellate court has allowed [a lawsuit] for Sgt. Chavez's brief, comparatively benign questioning demonstrates the need to clarify the law," said Charles Hobson of Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. Klein, of the University of Texas, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the National Police Accountability Project.

"Comparitavely bening questioning"?

Update: TalkLeft, the ultimate authority for all matters regarding crime policy, has her own extended analysis of the case.

Posted November 24, 2002 06:33 PM | Comments (53)


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