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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

SCOTUS: Your Silence Can Be Used Against You

We here at the Law Blogger have some friends among the ranks of state prosecutors and law enforcement.  From time to time, we are treated to the "nuts-and-bolts" of the cold-case process from these professionals.

This post involves the ultimate resolution of a cold murder case and the result of that case now affects all citizens in their [hopefully occasional] interactions with law enforcement.  SCOTUS ruled yesterday that the silence of an accused, during questioning from the police, can be used against the suspect at his trial unless the person affirmatively asserts his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

In Salinas v Texas, the defendant was voluntarily discussing the 1992 murders of two brothers when he accompanied police to the station.  He was not under arrest at the time, and continued to discuss his knowledge of the circumstances of the murders at the police station; no Miranda warnings were supplied advising him of his constitutional right to remain silent.

After answering all the detectives' questions, Mr. Salinas suddenly fell silent when asked whether the shot gun casings found at the murder scene matched his shotgun.  His demeanor turned clammy and nervous; Salinas clammed-up.

Now, normally, your silence cannot be used against you in court.  In this case, however, Salinas' trial featured evidence from police testimony about his demeanor and silence during the shotgun line of questions at the police station.

The now-convicted double murder defendant appealed his case all the way to the SCOTUS and just lost yesterday.  Each of us lost a little sliver of our 5th Amendment right to remain silent along with Salinas' affirmed conviction.

The plurality decision in this case seems to split a hair relative to our constitutional rights while being interviewed or, by extension, interrogated by law enforcement.  SCOTUS held in this case that, in order to invoke his constitutional right to remain silent, Salinas had to affirmatively assert his right to silence.  Since he did not do so while discussing the murders with the police, his conviction was affirmed.

The lesson in all this: ordinary citizens must keep-up with the nuances in the law in order to properly assert their constitutional rights.  Put another way: with regard to our right to silence, this ruling takes a "use it or lose it" approach.

Michigan Connection:  now-retired Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor and appellate specialist [i.e. legend] Timothy Baughman filed as an amicus on behalf of Wayne County.

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