Supreme Court Rules a Suspect’s Silence during Police Interrogation Can be Used against Him

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Remaining silent during questioning by police can be used against a person in a court of law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (pdf) in a startling reinterpretation of Fifth Amendment rights.


A narrow majority ruled 5-to-4 in Salinas v. Texas that it was permissible for authorities to present at Genovevo Salinas’ trial that he refused to answer the police’s questions about a fatal shooting because Salinas had already answered some questions prior to being arrested and read his Miranda rights.


Salinas voluntarily spoke with police about the December 1992 murders of Juan and Hector Garza in Houston. But when asked whether the shells found at the scene would match a shotgun found in his home, the defendant went silent and refused to answer.


A ballistics test subsequently showed the shells were fired from Salinas’ weapon. Prosecutors used the fact that Salinas did not respond to the question about the shells, and appeared nervous, as a further argument to convince jurors of his guilt. Also presented was testimony from a witness who said Salinas took credit for the killings.


Salinas’s first trial ended in a mistrial. A second trial resulted in his being convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.


He later appealed, arguing that prosecutors had violated his right to stay silent. Salinas’ silence as evidence of possible guilt should have been omitted from the trial, claimed his lawyer, citing the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.


Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed with Salinas’ argument and validated his conviction. Their ruling states that Salinas would have to have voluntarily invoked his Fifth Amendment right in order to be protected by it.


Critics claim that this ruling damages the spirit of the Fifth Amendment and will hereafter give law enforcement an incentive to delay the reading of Miranda warnings—the right to remain silent—to criminal suspects.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

The Price of Silence: Supreme Court Rules That Pre-Miranda Silence Can Be Used Against Defendant To Prove Guilt (by Jonathan Turley)

Fifth Amendment Can't Shield Selective Answers (by Dan McCue, Courthouse News Service)

Goodbye 5th Amendment? Supremes Rule Silence Can be used in Court (by Tiffany Madison, Washington Times)

Court Ruling: Salinas v. Texas (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)

Kentucky Supreme Court Case Questions whether Students Deserve the Right to Remain Silent (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)          

Obama Administration Says Miranda Warning Doesn’t Count for Terror Suspects (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)         


Mike 6 years ago
The court found me guilty of one count of obstructing of official business and one count of disorderly conduct. Please view the link of the police video (first eight minutes) and explain what happened to my Constitutional fifth and fourth amendment rights. Note the first thing I did was offer my license, proof of insurance and registration which the officer ignored. Further viewing will show the unconstitutional search of my van. This is an unassailable depiction of our Constitutional rights. ARE YOU INTERESTED if so please give me YOUR legal, moral, ethical and Constitutional opinion.
Debra Tate 10 years ago
Carmen Elisa Bonilla-Jones 10 years ago
Although appalling this ruling should not come as a surprise. This is the same court that ruled corporations are people and have been systematically taking away the people’s rights. Actually they are trying to destroy the constitution.
Ronald Thomas West 10 years ago
I can only imagine what George Carlin would do with this one- Police to suspect: "You have the right to remain silent and we can use your silence against you" Oh and the 5th Amendment now reads "nor shall [any person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, if they have read and remember this clause" because the founders employed a crystal ball and knew 'Miranda' decision was in the works 200 years down the line .. .. oh, but wait, that would mean Miranda is oxymoron because it was read to inform you of your rights but actually if you had to be informed of your rights, your rights don't count .. let's call it the 'if you've been to law school and know what is up, you get your rights because you're a lawyer' rule

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