January 11, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/
-- Most of us are likely familiar with the general idea that the U.S. Constitution allows someone to remain silent in the face of police questioning. The reality is far more complicated, however. What the Constitution actually states is that "No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This is an important distinction, as many of the protections under this part of the Fifth Amendment only apply if the defendant actually testifies at his or her trial.
One important example is whether the prosecution may use an individual's silence in response to a police interrogation as evidence of guilt. The answer can vary depending on the circumstances; however, it is possible for that silence to be admissible against someone accused of a crime. This very question was recently addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Salinas v. Texas based on a case originating in Texas.
Police in Houston discovered two victims of murder
in December of 1992. Their investigation ultimately led them to a man, Salinas, who voluntarily went with police officers to their station and answered questions. After doing so for approximately an hour, he was asked if shotgun shells found at the murder scene would match the shotgun found in his home. Salinas did not answer, and acted in a way that the police officers found to be deceptive. The police did not have enough evidence to arrest Salinas for the murder at that time, and he was allowed to leave. Ballistics later showed his shotgun to match the shells found at the scene; however, Salinas fled the area and was not found until 2007. He was then charged with murder. At his trial, the prosecution submitted evidence of Salinas's silence in response to the question regarding the shotgun shells. The defense objected but was overruled, and Salinas was ultimately convicted.
He appealed, arguing that the admission of his silence violated his rights under the Fifth Amendment. The case went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled that it did not. That court found that the specific wording of the Amendment was important, namely that an individual could not be "compelled" to incriminate himself. Since Salinas was under no obligation to speak (that is, he was not under arrest).
The case then was taken for consideration by the United States Supreme Court. As an indication of how difficult this issue is, the U.S. Supreme Court could not agree on an interpretation, although a majority of the justices agreed that Salinas's pre-arrest silence was admissible. Three of the justices concluded that Salinas's silence in response to the police question was admissible because he did not expressly invoke the right against self-incrimination. They noted that there are two exceptions, namely that an individual may choose not to testify at his or her trial without taking the stand and saying so, and that an individual faced with "custodial interrogation" (such as arrest) is also not required to expressly invoke the privilege. Two additional justices agreed with the conclusion in Salinas's case, but would have gone further and not permitted the right to be invoked at any point during a pre-arrest interaction with police.
As you can see, the facts and circumstances can make a big difference in how the courts interpret a given case. If you are facing any kind of criminal charges, or even questions from police, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Article provided by Law Offices of Jed Silverman
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