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May 28, 2010

Miranda's Real Legacy

My colleague Professor Friedman’s posting about Miranda rights and the enduring values represented by Miranda raises some very interesting issues, particularly in light of the Obama administration's recent efforts to create a legislative exception to Miranda warnings in terrorist cases. In seeking to create this terrorist exception, the administration seems to be exploiting the schizophrenic way the Supreme Court has treated Miranda warnings since the Court created them in 1966.

If the administration is successful in its attempt to get Congress to create a terrorist exception, it will not be the first exception to the Miranda rule. Shortly after Miranda was announced, in fact, the Court recognized an emergency exception to the warning requirements in Dunaway v. New York. That exception is still very much in use today. The Attorney General recently stated that the FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallaban, the alleged “underwear bomber,” without giving him Miranda warnings, citing to the emergency exception.

In addition, the Court has also significantly limited the application of the exclusionary rule when police conduct is a mere violation of Miranda warnings. In United States v. Patante, a majority of the Court held that the remedy for a Miranda violation is limited to the suppression of the statement so obtained. The suppression does not apply, however, to the derivative evidence that came from that unwarned statement, particularly when that derivative evidence is highly probative.

Finally, in Dickerson v. United States, while the Court did uphold Miranda’s validity and rejected Congress’ attempt to eliminate Miranda by statute, the basis of the Court’s rationale for upholding Miranda was anything but clear. In his dissent in Dickerson, Justice Scalia launched a powerful attack on the Court’s schizophrenic treatment of Miranda, noting that at various times the Court has referred to the warnings a “prophylactic rule,” a “constitutional decision,” “constitutionally based,” and a rule with “constitutional underpinnings,” but has never held that a failure to give Miranda warnings violates the Constitution. Indeed, if a failure to give Miranda warnings was a constitutional violation, the validity of the emergency exception which the Court recognized in Dunaway would be highly suspect.

So it is this against this background that the Obama administration is seeking to create a terrorist exception to Miranda. If the administration is successful, and if the courts uphold this terrorist exception, this will add yet one more chapter to Miranda’s storied history–a history that reflects a complex, confusing and inherently inconsistent body of caselaw. Scott Turow suggests that the legacy of Miranda is an expression of equality before the law. But in light of its history, the legacy of Miranda may be that courts are particularly ill equipped to legislate from the bench.

May 25, 2010

Modifying Miranda in Terrorism Cases

When government action threatens our ability to control information about ourselves, the first place we seek refuge is the Fourth Amendment, which protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” But the Fourth Amendment is not the only constitutional provision that concerns privacy. As interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, most famously in Miranda v. Arizona, the Fifth Amendment, too, protects our ability to keep information to ourselves in the particular instance when police officers are asking us questions we do not wish to answer.

Miranda has become part of the culture. Everyone who has ever seen an episode of some iteration of Law & Order likely knows that Miranda requires police officers to advise a person arrested that he or she has the right to remain silent. And this judge-made rule is so much a part of the fabric of our laws that when, in Dickerson v. United States, it faced serious challenge on constitutional grounds, the Court overwhelmingly affirmed Miranda’s validity.

Following the decision in Dickerson, lawyer and novelist Scott Turow suggested that the actual utility of Miranda is quite limited: at this time, he wrote, “Miranda has little practical impact on the interaction between suspects and cops.” This is because “courts and cops have accommodated themselves to the rule.”

For Turow, Miranda is about more than utility: it is a “vivid emblem of central ideas about the law,” standing for the principle that “[c]atching bad guys is important, but it is not the only thing this society values.”

Notwithstanding Dickerson, Miranda’s constitutional provenance is suspect. There are other ways to protect a person’s right to remain silent. For instance, the government could simply be put to its proof to demonstrate that any given confession was, in fact, knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made. Instead, in the mine run of cases, the government need only show that the police gave the warning and that the suspect heard it. This is likely better than nothing, but, as Turow has explained, what enduring value Miranda has lies more in what it means, rather than what it does.

And even that symbolic value may once again be put to the test, for the Obama administration recently announced that it would seek a law allowing investigators to interrogate terrorism suspects without administering Miranda warnings. The proposal is in tension with the fact that the Constitution does not distinguish between ordinary criminals and terrorists—or even ordinary criminals and innocent bystanders. This is the great leveling force of the Constitution’s privacy protections, and Miranda in particular: as Turow put it, the decision “is an expression of equality before the law.”

So when we begin to discuss exceptions to Miranda’s mandate in cases alleging terrorism, what we are really saying is all persons may not, in fact, be equal before the law. To be sure, modifying Miranda for terrorism cases is expeditious. The real question is whether such modification is consonant with the consistency and fairness we have long associated with the rule of law.

Lawrence Friedman

May 19, 2010

Shopping for Privacy

My colleague, Professor Vic Hansen, has written in this space about the problem of protecting privacy in our increasingly interconnected digital age. He noted the ease with which third parties can gather information about us from our online activities, including the use of social networking sites like Facebook, and questioned how this phenomenon would affect judicial determinations of reasonable expectations of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

If privacy is understood as the control we have over information about ourselves, this is no idle inquiry. Even for those of us who eschew social networking sites and online shopping, expectations of privacy are being recalculated daily. Natasha Singer, writing in the New York Times, recently reported that retail stores now employ camera arrays designed to follow your every movement while in the store, and mobile marketers can use information about you and your cell phone’s GPS capability to send you ads specifically geared toward what appear to be your expressed interest in all manner of goods and products. For retailers, this kind of technology improves the ability to determine what to sell, and to whom.

There is a price, of course: diminished expectations of privacy. And it is a price we all pay—not just those of us who have cell phones and go the mall.

Singer suggests we have become a “post-privacy society, where we have lost track of how many entities are tracking us.” In her article, she identifies the larger issue as the industrialization of the collection of information. Information, as the saying goes, is power, and information about consumer preferences and habits may be critical to improving a retailer’s quarterly earnings report.

The Federal Trade Commission is working on new privacy guidelines, but the forces pushing for more and better information will be difficult to deter. Part of the reason is the collective action problem: we generally like our own privacy, but we are less interested in the privacy of others. And if, on the other hand, we generally don’t care about our privacy, we’re likely to sell it cheaply.

As Professor Hansen observes, courts tend to rely upon a descriptive understanding of personal privacy in evaluating claims against the government under the Fourth Amendment. The same is true, of course, in the case of a claim against a party under consumer protection laws. Either way, courts attempt to gauge whether a protectable privacy interest exists, rather than whether such an interest ought to be recognized, in a given instance. When, without serious objection, cameras follow us while we shop, recording our every move for later evaluation, and retailers know whether we are standing in front of the shirts or the ties, it becomes increasingly difficult to argue that any consequential loss of privacy ought to count as harm worthy of legal notice.

Lawrence Friedman

May 7, 2010

Principal Places of Business

In Hertz Corporation v. Friend, issued in February, the United States Supreme Court resolved a longstanding question of federal subject matter jurisdiction: for diversity purposes, where is a corporation’s principal place of business? 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c) provides that “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.” Over the years since the rule was codified, the Courts of Appeals developed differing views as to where, exactly, to find a corporation’s principal place of business—whether in the place where the business conducted most of its activity, or the place where the corporation directed and controlled its various activities. A unanimous opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer settled on the latter.

There were several reasons for this. The Hertz Corporation Court concluded, first, that the statute’s text supported the so-called “nerve center” approach, because a corporation’s nerve center is usually its main headquarters and a single place. Second, the Court discussed administrative simplicity: “Complex jurisdiction tests,” Breyer wrote, “complicate a case, eating up time and money as the parties litigate, not the merits of their claims, but which court is the right court to decide those claims.” In addition to simplifying jurisdictional inquiries, the nerve center test approach will promote predictability. Finally, the statute’s legislative history (“for those who accept it,” Breyer noted), “offers a simplicity-related interpretive benchmark” by suggesting “that the words ‘principal place of business’ should be interpreted to be no more complex than the [initially proposed] ‘half of gross income’ test. A ‘nerve center’ test offers such a possibility. A general business test does not.”

The decision in Hertz Corporation clarifies an area of law in which the different tests employed by the Courts of Appeals had engendered no small amount of confusion in trying to tease out when, for jurisdictional purposes, to favor general business activities over command and direction of those activities. Justice Breyer’s reliance upon text and legislative history is skillful, but it is really the second of the Court’s stated reasons for adopting the nerve center approach that stands out—that the nerve center test will reduce litigation over jurisdictional issues, simplify the trial court’s work, and create more predictability in the law.

Simplicity is a virtue, but simplicity does not necessarily “diminish the likelihood that results and settlements will reflect a claim’s legal and factual merits.” There are many ways to litigate a case and many ways to credit an outcome as favorable, and not all of those ways necessarily relate to the merits of a claim. An effort to reduce gamesmanship, to focus judicial and lawyerly attention on the merits, is all to the good, of course; but here experience will likely trump hope. This is so because, while the courts are rightly concerned with efficiency, litigators may not be; inefficiency—and the financial and temporal costs of delay—can be used to push a case toward settlement.

In a sense, inefficiency may be a natural by-product of an attorney’s zealous advocacy. Lawyers trained in the methodology of the common law eventually will wear away at the bright line rule announced in Hertz Corporation, as water does stone. It will start with litigation over what the Court sees as outlier cases—those in which “corporations … divide their command and coordinating functions among officers who work at several different locations, perhaps communicating over the Internet.” Even if the Court’s new bright-line rule does not encourage corporations to structure themselves in precisely this way, it is likely that, over time, we will see more and more corporations develop nerve centers that are networked throughout different states, increasing the potential for litigation over the very question Hertz Corporation endeavored to resolve: where should the courts locate such a corporation’s principal place of business?

Still, the decision in Hertz Corporation recognizes that, in matters of procedure, there are benefits to be gained by bright lines. And the decision acknowledges that some lines are indeed brighter than others; while the nerve center approach may not “automatically generate a result,” it “is relatively easier to apply.” That is something—at least for so long as it remains true to how the majority of corporations operate in our increasingly interconnected digital world.

Lawrence Friedman

May 5, 2010

Public School Teachers and Due Process

The news coming out of Rhode Island, as discussed by my colleague, Monica Teixeira de Sousa, and more recently in The Boston Globe, regarding the mass firing of public school teachers is deeply disturbing.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution is clearly in play here. Neither state law nor administrative order can take away property rights that regular public school teachers have in their jobs. Each of these teachers--whether in Boston or in Central Falls, Rhode Island, is entitled to an individualized, case by case hearing with the opportunity to confront the allegations against them plus the chance to refute them.

"The fundamental requisite of due process of law is the opportunity to be heard." So said the Supreme Court back in 1914, at a time when that Court was even more conservative than the present one.

This draconian policy of mass firing of public employees is coming down from the very top--from the Obama administration itself. One would have thought that a former teacher of Constitutional Law in one of the nation's most distinguished law schools would remember what every first year law student has learned--that the Constitution of the United States protects the due process rights of every person. Surely the public school teachers in Boston and Central Falls are entitled to nothing less.

George Dargo

May 3, 2010

Our Perception of Corruption

Why are we outraged to hear about a bully picking on an innocent child yet learning about multinational corporations bribing corrupt government officials elicits only a yawning “business as usual” reaction? An article by a trio of South American scholars published in the International Journal of Psychology Research offers some insight.

The authors, Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Isaac de León-Beltrán, and Muricio Rubio, work from neurological research that examines activity in the brain while it is performing certain tasks. One of the findings of neurological researchers is that many of our behaviors— many more than previously thought—spring from our instincts rather than from what we think of as our reasoning processes. These findings are changing the foundational constructs of some of our social sciences; for example, the “rational person” assumption of economics is coming under increasing scrutiny. But the authors here are interested in our perception of corruption. What they conclude is that our inability to perceive corruption as “reprehensible behavior” stems from the lack of certain factual conditions necessary to trigger such an emotional response. The authors point out that campaigns aimed at preventing corruption often try to teach people how to connect corruption with its deleterious effect on society as a whole. The problem with this strategy, they say, is that it requires people to make “complex causal links” for which they may not have the training. Only when corruption can be shown to harm goods and services close to them do people tend to make the connection. Looking into research involving neurological mechanisms referred to as “mirror neurons,” along with psychological mechanisms called “Theory of the Minds,” they explain the basis for this disconnect. Mirror neurons allow us to experience a sort of vicarious distress when we become aware of the pain or discomfort of others. So violent crimes that hurt other human beings trigger negative feelings, such as regret or aversion. Likewise, Theory of the Minds allows us to infer the mental states of others; we assume that something that would hurt us would hurt another person.

But in order for these processes to work, there must be another person who is being harmed by the act in question. This is where the difficulty of causal links comes in. Learning about an act that harms society as a whole does not trigger in the observer an acute emotional response because, without engaging in extensive analysis, no discrete victim is identified. As the authors put it, “acts of public corruption are similar [to] hitting a tree” rather than a person. And, unfortunately for those pointing out the connection between the act of corruption and the suffering of individuals, careful argument is no match for the emotional impact triggered through these physiological processes. Marketers have understood this for years—this is why marketing strategies are designed to appeal to our emotions rather than to convince us by argument or logic that we need things they are selling. The authors conclude that in the case of the crime of corruption, it is important to show the victims and the causal links between the crime and those victims.

Elizabeth Spahn is a law professor at New England Law | Boston who studies international corruption. Spahn recently spoke about her area of expertise at a symposium entitled “Combating Global Corruption” at Georgetown Law School. In her talk, based on an article that will appear in the Georgetown Journal of International Law, she focused on the human consequences of bribery. Because bribery is used to circumvent regulations and bypass normal vetting processes for the production of goods and services, Professor Spahn points out that it has a prominent role in a number of international incidents implicating human suffering. It provides an entree into markets for transnational criminal organizations and sets the stage for organized crimes such as human trafficking and trade in wildlife and animal parts. Breaking down regulatory barriers leads to low quality-control products such as contaminated toothpaste, fake baby milk formula, toxic toys and poisoned pet food. Because not all regulations circumvented by bribes are merely bureaucratic; some are related to quality control. One study concluded that corruption reduces pollution control. It also had a role in the Yanacocha Mine mercury spill. Spahn’s non-exhaustive list goes on.

Although it may not be obvious without some observation and analysis, corruption has devastating human costs. The fight against corruption is made more difficult by limitations in our perception of the crime brought on by our physiological make-up. But if marketers can employ strategies to appeal to this aspect of our humanness to sell us products, surely those battling corruption can learn to make the same connections to invoke the outrage to fit the crime. In her presentation at Georgetown, Professor Spahn drew specific links between corruption and individual suffering. In the battle against international corruption, Elizabeth Spahn gets it. And she’s working to ensure that the rest of the world will soon get it too.