"Mr Hume: Mr. Meese, you just said that you thought that the Miranda case was 'infamous,' I believe. Do you regard that ruling as infamous?

"Mr. Meese: Yes, I think so. I think the idea that the police cannot ask questions of the person that knows most about the crime is an infamous decision. I think it's a wrong decision. I think that if a person doesn't want to answer, that's their right, but you have had, time after time you've had all these ridiculous situations in which the police are precluded from asking the one person who knows the most about the crime what happened."

This exchange occurred Sunday on "This Week With David Brinkley," and there are a couple of things that leap out about it at once. The first is that the attorney general has misrepresented the Miranda decision. Miranda does not say that "the police cannot ask questions" of a suspect, as Mr. Meese puts it. It says that the police must inform the suspect of what his rights are before it does. Mr. Meese says that "if a person doesn't want to answer, that's their right"; the court said in Miranda that he must be told of that right before the questioning starts and that he must also be told of his right to a lawyer, state-provided if need be, and also that anything he does say may be used against him at a future time.

The second thing that leaps out from this quotation is the fact that Mr. Meese seems to make no distinction between a suspect and a convicted criminal. He simply assumes that the suspect is "the one person who knows the most about the crime."

Speaking a moment earlier about "infamous cases like Mapp against Ohio (the case that applied the federal Exclusionary Rule to the states) and Miranda," the attorney general had said: "That was inventing new law. We hadn't had any need for those, those, that type of law. We had never had that type of law in, at that point about 175 years of history." Anyone who was familiar with the kind of police sweeps and roundups and trickery and abuse of suspects going on when the courts moved on these issues would know that there was a need. Over the years since then there have been from time to time some preposterous interpretations of both Miranda and the larger Exclusionary Rule into which it fits. An inevitable consequence is that some guilty defendants are acquitted because improperly obtained evidence is excluded. But the preponderant effect has been good, deterring police misconduct and strengthening the suspect's capacity to defend himself against ransack searches and accusers and authorities who might be seeking to do him in without really making the convincing case required by law.

Mr. Meese himself, different as he is from the violent, lowlife types who have been able to avail themselves of these protections, has also in his way been their beneficiary. The present attorney general is but one of a considerable number of vocal opponents of these protections on the right who have themselves become subjects of investigation by prosecutors who were in some degree restrained by the strict rules designed to protect the presumption of innocence.

And more specifically, last year, when, in our judgment, too many people were rushing to convict him of criminal conduct on the basis of unproved charges, he must have gained a new appreciation of the importance of making that distinction between the man accused and the man proved guilty. He had excellent counsel and the means to defend himself, and no one had to explain to him his rights. Even so, he almost went down under the weight of the allegations alone. Mr. Meese should understand better than others how important it is to protect the rights of the accused.