Did the Clairvoyant See the Constitutional Issues?

The Agents of SHIELD episode “The Beginning of the End” was a fantastic joyride for comic book fans. The set-up for Captain America 2 and the battle for the soul of SHIELD were geektastic. The only thing the story was lacking was telling Thomas Nash “you’re under arrest” and giving him his Miranda Rights.

Ward killing the paralyzed Nash armed with a tube in his mouth is also extremely problematic.

Let’s break down the legal issues:

Was the Clairvoyant Lawfully Arrested? 

Thomas Nash apparently communicated through his computer “I surrender” to Agents Coulson and Garrett after they entered his room with weapons drawn after exchanging fire with Deathlok (whether or no it was Nash operating the computer was not determined). No member of SHIELD actually told Nash “you are under arrest.”

Someone is under arrest when they are kept in custody by legal authority in response to a criminal charge. See, Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th Edition.

We have a little rule called Miranda that states:

Accordingly we hold that an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation under the system for protecting the privilege we delineate today. As with the warnings of the right to remain silent and that anything stated can be used in evidence against him, this warning is an absolute prerequisite to interrogation. No amount of  circumstantial evidence that the person may have been aware of this right will suffice to stand in its stead. Only through such a warning is there ascertainable assurance that the accused was aware of this right.

Miranda v. Ariz., 384 U.S. 436, 471-472 (U.S. 1966).

As such, when some is “arrested,” they must be given their Miranda Rights.

Had Nash been arrested? Were the Agents required to give Nash his Miranda Rights?

SHIELD_MirandaThere is an argument that the Agents finding the paralyzed Nash in the bed were only conducting an interview of the suspect. For example, a Court held that a bomb maker interviewed in a hospital bed after an explosion was not in custody, because the officers did not keep the suspect in the hospital. Things could have been different if the police had transported the suspect, stationed guards, monitored his health or showed restraint amounting to custody. Gonzalez v. Sisto, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48812, 28-29 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2010) citing United States v. Martin, 781 F.2d 671, 672-73 (9th Cir. 1985).

Nash was in a very similar position, in that he was confined to a hospital bed, unable to speak without a computer. The SHIELD Agents did not put him in his near vegetative state, but were questioning a possible suspect.

However, there were at least half a dozen armed SHIELD Agents around Nash with weapons drawn. Moreover, he surrendered. These are facts supporting he was under SHIELD custody and lawfully arrested. As such, Miranda Rights should have been given.

There is a “Public Safety” Exception to Miranda where “overriding considerations of public safety” could justify a failure to provide Miranda warnings before initiating custodial interrogation. New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, at 651 (1984). Moreover, law enforcement could question someone under arrested without giving Miranda Rights when the “officers have a reasonable belief based on articulable facts that they are in danger.” United States v. Talley, 275 F.3d 560, 563 (6th Cir. 2001). These situations have included looking for explosives and guns left out. See, United States v. Williams, 483 F.3d 425, 428 (6th Cir. 2007) and United States v. Hodge, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7848, at *14 (6th Cir. Mich. 2013).

SHIELD_PublicSafetyDeathlok running free with the ability to launch small missiles, enhanced strength, and bullet proof, would give the Agents a reasonable belief that they were in danger. This would justify the questioning of Nash without giving his Miranda Rights.

Ward Committed Murder (Again)

Thomas Nash was either being interviewed or under arrested when Agent Ward shot him. There is no way around the fact Ward committed murder, arguably worse than his visit to the Guest House. At least those guys could defend themselves.

The execution of a Canadian citizen in the United States by US law enforcement would be controlled by US law. SHIELD operates within the US Government (don’t forget Agents Hand and Blake being picked up on the USS John C Stennis, CVN 74 at the beginning of the episode. Nimitz class carriers are not coffee shops for hanging out). As such, Ward SHOULD be both subject to a 1983 action by Nash’s family and charged for murder.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.