London Terror Suspects’ Bedside Questions Limited
In Boston and London, injured suspects in recent terror attacks were taken to hospitals to recover under armed guard. Their bedside treatment by authorities won’t be the same.
While Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was questioned by federal investigators in his hospital room during a 48-hour period after his capture last month, police in the U.K. may be more cautious with two men suspected of killing a British soldier on a South London street on May 22. Any information they glean risks being barred from a trial due to U.K. rules limiting such bedside interrogations.
Unlike in the U.S., Britain’s police code of conduct prohibits officers from interviewing suspects about offenses anywhere other than a police station or another authorized place of detention, unless a delay could harm others or lead to a loss of evidence.
“Sometimes we have clients interviewed in hospital and we could argue that the evidence is inadmissible,” Ruth Hamann, a lawyer at law firm Hodge, Jones & Allan LLP in London, said in a telephone interview. “The police would probably be cautious about asking questions while the suspects are in hospital. It’s a gray area.”
Two men attacked a soldier, identified by the Ministry of Defence as Lee Rigby, outside military barracks in Woolwich, southeast London, with knives and meat-cleavers. When officers arrived at the scene, they shot, wounded and arrested the men before taking them to the hospital, where they remain under armed guard.
A 14-second video on the website of The Mirror, a U.K. tabloid, shows how one of the men sprinted at armed officers, coming within a few feet of a stationary police vehicle before being felled by two shots.
A second assailant can be seen holding a weapon and moving in the direction of the officers. Six more shots ring out amid screams.
Tsarnaev, 19, accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15 that killed three people and wounded more than 260, was also injured when he was captured. He was later charged with violations related to the use of weapons of mass destruction. If convicted, he may face the death penalty if the U.S. decides to seek it.
In the U.S., there are no specific laws barring investigators from interviewing injured suspects in a hospital, though police are required to read a Miranda warning established in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Miranda v. Arizona. The warning alerts suspects to their right to not answer questions and to have an attorney present if they decide to talk.
“You don’t get special status if you’re lying in a hospital bed” in the U.S., said Gerald Shargel, a New York-based criminal defense lawyer who has practiced for 43 years. “Obviously the efficacy of the questioning will rely on the suspect’s condition.”
If a dispute arises over the information obtained from an injured suspect in a hospital, a judge will hold a hearing to determine if he or she was competent to answer the questions, according to Shargel. Factors discussed in court may include how much pain they were in or how much medication they were on, as well as how much information was provided, he said.
A U.K. judge may allow prosecution evidence from a suspect not questioned at a police station if they make a significant statement after being made aware that the information may be used in the case against them, Hamann said. Like the Miranda warning, the U.K. requires authorities to tell suspects they have the right to an attorney and that statements they make may be used by prosecutors.
The BBC and other U.K. media identified one of the suspects as Michael Adebolajo. The Independent newspaper reported yesterday that Adebolajo was familiar to a banned Islamist organization, Al Muhajiroun, which favors sharia law and publicly celebrated the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings in the U.S.
He went by the name of Mujahid -- a Muslim engaged in holy war -- up until two years ago, Anjem Choudary, the former leader of the group, was cited as saying by the newspaper. No charges have been filed by police. It’s unclear whether the two suspects have hired or been assigned lawyers. Police declined to comment.
Police said yesterday they arrested two more people, a man and a woman, both 29, on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.
It’s the first actual, rather than planned, attack in Britain investigated as a possible act of terrorism since July 7, 2005. Fifty-two people were killed when four Islamist suicide bombers set off explosions on underground trains and a bus in central London during the morning rush hour.
Tsarnaev’s case is unusual because the Miranda warning wasn’t read during that time under a 48-hour public safety exception. Federal investigators cited the exception because there was sufficient reason to believe the public was still in danger. U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler later gave Tsarnaev the warning during the suspect’s bedside hearing.
Tsarnaev’s defense team has indicated it may seek to challenge statements the suspect gave investigators during his bedside interview. Tsarnaev’s lawyer, federal public defender Miriam Conrad, declined to comment on her client’s hospital interview.
Lawmakers briefed by U.S. law-enforcement officials have said Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, the suspected mastermind behind the attack who was killed after a shootout with police, were motivated by radical Islam they learned about mostly over the Internet. The brothers were ethnic Chechens who came to the U.S. with their parents as refugees from Russia’s Caucasus region.
The lawyers requested to have photographs taken of Tsarnaev in prison to record his “injuries over time” and “his evolving mental and physical state” -- evidence they may seek to use in arguments about the “voluntariness” of his earlier statements, Bowler said in a ruling on May 17. The photographs will be taken by prison officials instead of by the defense lawyers, Bowler said.
U.K. investigators may be careful to avoid similar complications in their case, opting to question their suspects in a police station with a lawyer present and record it on tape.
It would be “much easier for them to use this information at a later stage,” Hamann said.
The Tsarnaev case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-mj-02106, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).