Supreme Court: You Don't Have the Right to Remain Silent

You win some, you lose some. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a criminal defendant in Texas and circumscribed defendants' Miranda rights in the process. Miranda rights are the rights that everyone knows — you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you — and arise from the seminal case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). They are designed to give criminal defendants or suspects protection from incriminating themselves. However, one of the linchpins of Miranda rights is that they apply when a person is in custody — when a reasonable person would not feel that he or she is free to leave. 

In this week's opinion, Salinas v. Texas, the defendant argued that his silence during a police interrogation was improperly used against him in order to obtain his conviction. He had been speaking to police about a matter they were investigating, and they asked him a question about a gun. He did not respond at that point. That silence was used in his trial as an indicator of guilt.  

However, what made the Salinas case different is that the defendant was not in custody. As SCOTUSblog pointed out:

He answered almost all of the officers' questions, but simply sat silent when the officers asked him if shotgun casings found at the scene would match his gun.  He acted very nervous in response, but said nothing. Prosecutors used the fact that he said nothing to help convince the jury that he was guilty.

SCOTUSblog continued:

The Court rejected the argument by Salinas's attorney that, since he was not in custody at the time and had not been given warnings about his rights, that he did not have to explicitly claim the protection of the Fifth Amendment when he did not want to answer the police questions about the shotgun casings.

Salinas's attorney likely made this argument because in their opinion in Berghuis v. Thompkins in 2010, the Supreme Court held that a defendant who has been read his Miranda rights must specifically assert them for the protections to apply; because Salinas had never been arrested, there would be no reason to read him Miranda rights and, therefore, no trigger for him to assert them.

The opinion may be read here.

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