Salinas v. Texas – Your Silence Can Be Used Against You

by Michael P. Lewis on June 17, 2013

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled today in Salinas v. Texas that a criminal suspect, prior to being Mirandized, must explicitly invoke the right against self-incrimination to preclude silence and nonverbal communication from being introduced as evidence of the suspect’s guilt.

Genovevo Salinas was convicted of a double homicide in 1992.  During the murder investigation, authorities found several shotgun shells within close proximity to the bodies of the victims.  Salinas, who had attended a party at the victims’ home, cooperated with authorities and agreed to voluntarily appear at the police station to submit himself to questioning.  When asked whether a shotgun obtained from his home would match the shells police recovered at the scene, Salinas remained silent and refused to answer.  At trial, prosecutors introduced Salinas’s silence as evidence of his guilt.

At first blush, the Salinas decision seems to contradict two landmark cases concerning the right against self-incrimination: Miranda v. Arizona and Griffin v. California.  In Miranda the Supreme Court ruled that suspects in police custody must be informed of their right against self-incrimination.  In Griffin the Court held that a judge cannot instruct a jury to use silence during trial as an admission of guilt.  Two important distinctions exist in Salinas, however: the defendant was not in custody, and he was silent during a voluntary interview, not trial.  As the Court noted, it was undisputed that Salinas’s interview with police was voluntary and noncustodial—Mr. Salinas agreed to accompany the officers to the station and was free to leave at any time during the interview.  Despite this, an inherent danger remains in the fact that the police, who determine when to formally detain a criminal suspect and, therefore, when he must be apprised of his rights, are permitted to rely on that suspect’s unwitting failure to exercise those rights at any time prior to his formal detention.

 

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