As almost all Americans who have ever watched television or gone to a movie know, the Supreme Court held in a case called Miranda v. Arizona that a criminal suspect who is in police custody must be advised of his right to remain silent; if the suspect chooses to remain silent, that silence cannot be used against him in a trial.  The question before the Court in this case was whether this protection of silence applies before a suspect is actually arrested.  The defendant in this case, Genevevo Salinas, voluntarily went to the police station, where officers interviewed him about a pair of 1992 murders.  When asked whether a shotgun given to police by his father would match shell casings found at the crime scene, Salinas did not answer.  At his trial for the murders, prosecutors used Salinas’s silence as evidence of his guilt; Salinas was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Over the years, the lower courts had been divided on whether prosecutors can point to the “precustodial” silence of suspects.  Today the Court resolved that conflict, holding that because Salinas failed to invoke his right to remain silent in response to the officers’ questions, his silence was fair game at his trial. The Court reasoned that the privilege against self-incrimination applies only when it is asserted, and that merely remaining silent in response to questions is not enough.

The Court’s decision was fractured. Justice Alito wrote for a plurality of the Justices (himself, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Kennedy), setting forth the rule that the right to remain silent must be expressly invoked. Justices Thomas (joined by Justice Scalia) concurred only in the result, arguing that even if Salinas had invoked his right to remain silent, he still would have lost because the prosecutor’s comments regarding his silence did not compel him to give self-incriminating testimony. These five votes, together, added up to a loss for Salinas, and the rule in Justice Alito’s opinion is the controlling rule going forward. Justice Breyer, joined by the remaining three Justices, dissented, arguing that a defendant need not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination.

Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys work for or contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the co-counsel to the petitioner in this case.

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Posted in Salinas v. Texas, Merits Cases

Recommended Citation: Tejinder Singh, Details: Salinas v. Texas (Updated 1:30 PM), SCOTUSblog (Jun. 17, 2013, 12:32 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/details-salinas-v-texas/