The “Motive” arc takes up Gotham Central # 3-5, and wraps up a lot of loose ends from the previous story, “In the Line of Duty,” which we looked at last week. This one actually contains a real gem of a legal issue, which is handled exactly right. Spoilers inside!
The GCPD is looking for both the Firebug, who’s been burning stuff down around town, and for the person who kidnapped and murdered a teenage babysitter, the investigation of which got this whole thing started. The cops, presumably using a CI, figure out where Firebug is supposed to be holed up. But when they get there… it’s just some old guy, who jumps out the window rather than get caught. He survives the fall and winds up telling the police that yes, he did used to be Firebug, but he sold his suit as “memorabilia” a while back. Doesn’t really know to whom, but he could identify him if he saw him.
The cops then start to suspect the man for whom the deceased had been babysitting. They bring him to the station under the pretense of clarifying his version of events, and the ex-Firebug identifies him as the new Firebug. This is enough for a warrant, and the cops search the apartment, finding both the Firebug suit and forensic evidence connecting him to the murder of the babysitter.
At which point the suspect shouts “You tricked me! You didn’t read me my rights, and you tricked me!” All of which is correct. But the detective responds “Screw your rights.”
Which is maybe a bit unexpected, but he explains his thinking: “We’ve got your wife talkin’ a mile a minute, right now. We’ve got the Firebug suit, and we’ve got Bonnie’s blood on your tank.”
In other words, even if the cops have potentially violated the suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, or his broader Miranda rights, it doesn’t matter, because they’ve got more than enough evidence to nail him, and none of that evidence depended on statements he made while in police custody.
As it turns out, this is precisely correct.
In Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003), the Supreme Court held that a violation of the Fifth Amendment does not occur until statements obtained in violation of the Constitution are used against a defendant at trial. Not only did the defendant here not really make any incriminating statements, but the police totally do not need them to get their conviction. The suspect was identified by a witness at the police station, and that’s enough for a warrant.
It’s also very significant that the identification was made before the suspect was indicted or charged. A suspect has a right to counsel during lineups and one-on-one identifications “at or after the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings,” but not before. Kirby v. Illinois, 406 U.S. 682, 689 (1988). So Firebug didn’t have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at that point anyway.
Furthermore, the remedy for a Miranda violation is exclusion of improperly obtained evidence, but since the police don’t need to use any of that evidence, there would be no consequences to the alleged violation in this case.
As far as being tricked, the police are generally allowed to lie in order to induce cooperation or even outright confession. Nothing they did here seems to cross any lines.
Oh, and once the suspect figured out the gig was up, he blew up the room, having apparently snuck some Firebug gear in with him. I mean, way to go coppers, but at least one was at the ready with a fire extinguisher, so no one was seriously hurt. In any case, the Fifth Amendment right to silence only protects testimonial statements, and we’re pretty sure arson and attempted murder don’t count as testimonial statements, so they’ve got him on those at the very least.
So, in conclusion, it was quite pleasant to see a series which continues to show promise deal with a rather subtle legal issue so accurately. More next week!