Posted on 1/16/17

The seminal 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona posited that statements to police during an interrogation will only be admitted as evidence during a trial if the police informed the defendant the he or she had the right to remain silent and was allowed an attorney. Since then, popular culture has repeatedly informed Americans that they have a right under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution to remain silent in their dealings with police officers. Nonetheless, there remains considerable debate surrounding the right’s precise scope and the requirements for its assertion.

Your Right to Remain Silent

For years, one issue has proven particularly controversial: Can prosecutors introduce evidence at trial that a criminal suspect remained silent during police questioning or custody, thereby raising an inference that about the defendant’s guilt? As the logic goes, no innocent person would stay silent in the face of criminal accusation. However, while evidence law generally permits this move as an inference of guilt, there exists a countervailing constitutional concern when police are involved: Using a defendant’s silence as probative evidence of guilt may punish him or her for exercising that right, which is directly at odds with the Fifth Amendment. It can be more perplexing during informal questioning, which is the subject of the Salinas v. Texas case.

Salinas v Texas

In 2013, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Salinas v. Texas, a 20-year old murder case. In that case, Genovo Salinas was convicted of killing two men in Houston during a 1992 house party. During a January 1993 police questioning, which the police initially convened to clear Salinas as a suspect, police asked him numerous questions. They did so without reading him Miranda rights. Salinas was free to leave at any time and was not under arrest. When asked about whether Salinas’s shotgun would match the shells recovered from the murder scene, Salinas went silent, shuffled his feet, and bit his lip.

At trial, the prosecutors used that silence to convict Salinas. The issue was whether the prosecutors were allowed to use such silence to convict Salinas when he had not yet been placed in custody or received Miranda warnings, and voluntarily responded to some questions by police about a murder. The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution’s use of his silence in response to another question as evidence of his guilty at trial did not violate the Fifth Amendment because Salinas failed to expressly invoke his privilege not to incriminate himself in response to the officer’s question; Salinas, instead, just remained silent.

Thus, because the police did not arrest Salinas and they asked him informal questions, the police were not obliged to read him Miranda warnings. Rather, if Salinas wanted to remain silent then he should have invoked such rights in that situation.

If you are facing arrest or are in police custody, contact a lawyer who is familiar with criminal law. Contact the law office of Christopher Abel, an experienced Dallas-area defense attorney.

(image courtest of Kychan) 

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