U.S. Supreme Court: Pre-Arrest Silece Can Be Used Against Suspect

U.S. Supreme Court: Pre-Arrest Silece Can Be Used Against Suspect

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court today affirmed the conviction of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted in the 1992 murder of two brothers in Houston, Texas.  At issue was Salinas' refusal to answer, prior to his arrest, questions related to whether his shotgun was the one used in the murder.

The majority noted that Salinas had answered several per-arrest questions before falling silent in response to questions about the shotgun, and held he was not in police custody at the time the questions were posed.  Without "custodial interrogation" by the police, the traditional warnings secured by Miranda v. Arizona were not required.  Therefore, there was no error in prosecutor's use of Salinas' silence as evidence of guilt.  While the Court found that Salinas could have received the protection of the 5th Amendment by specifically invoking his right to remain silent, seek appointment of a lawyer, or otherwise, the right to remain silent was not self-executing.

Dissenters argued that holding departed too drastically from the Court's prior cases.  "Circumstances," the dissent noted, "not a defendant's statement, tie the defendant's silence to the right [against self-incrimination]."

To read the decision, click here.

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