As the lone surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing lay hospitalized under heavy guard Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal public defender raised concerns about investigators' plan to question 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without reading him his Miranda rights.
What Tsarnaev will say and when are unclear — he remained in serious condition and apparently in no shape for interrogation after being pulled bloody and wounded from a tarp-covered boat in a Watertown backyard. The capture came at the end of a tense Friday that began with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan, dying in a gunbattle with police.
U.S. officials said an elite interrogation team would question the Massachusetts college student without reading him his Miranda rights, something that is allowed on a limited basis when the public may be in immediate danger, such as instances in which bombs are planted and ready to go off.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said the legal exception applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is "not an open-ended exception" to the Miranda rule, which guarantees the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
The federal public defender's office in Massachusetts said it has agreed to represent Tsarnaev once he is charged. Miriam Conrad, public defender for Massachusetts, said he should have a lawyer appointed as soon as possible because there are "serious issues regarding possible interrogation."
There was no immediate word on when Tsarnaev might be charged and what those charges would be. The twin bombings killed three people and wounded more than 180.
The most serious charge available to federal prosecutors would be the use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill people, which carries a possible death sentence. Massachusetts does not have the death penalty.
President Barack Obama said there are many unanswered questions about the bombing, including whether the Tsarnaev brothers — ethnic Chechens from southern Russia who had been in the U.S. for about a decade and lived in the Boston area — had help from others. The president urged people not to rush judgment about their motivations.