June 17, 2013

US Supreme Court - June 17, 2013

Salinas v. Texas - 5th Amendment - Invocation of Right to Silence - Comment on Silence - Pre-Custodial Silence 
Facts: According to Justice Alito the plurality author, “Without being placed in custody or receiving Miranda warnings, petitioner voluntarily answered the questions of a police officer who was investigating a murder. But petitioner balked when the officer asked whether a ballistics test would show that the shell casings found at the crime scene would match petitioner’s shotgun. Petitioner was subsequently charged with murder, and at trial prosecutors argued that his reaction to the officer’s question suggested that he was guilty. Petitioner claims that this argument violated the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that ‘[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.’”
Issue: Whether introduction of Mr. Salinas’s pre-custodial silence violated his right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment?
Held: No.
Reasoning: In a 3-2-4 split, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, authored the plurality opinion and shows no real world perspective. Justice Alito held that the 5th Amendment did not protect Mr. Salinas because he made no affirmative effort to invoke the right. The plurality found that simply remaining silent does not sufficiently invoke the right to silence. Thus, the plurality found comments by the prosecution regarding Mr. Salinas’s silence during trial did not violate Mr. Salinas’s rights under the 5th Amendment.
          Justice Thomas joined by Justice Scalia concurred in the result by reasoning that Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965) should be overruled. In Griffin, the Court held neither the prosecution nor the trial court may comment upon the silence of an accused as an inference of guilt. 
          Handwringer, Justice Breyer, joined by the moderate bloc of Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, summed up the most logical and just reading of the 5th Amendment's Right to Silence, “In my view the Fifth Amendment here prohibits the prosecution from commenting on the petitioner’s silence in response to police questioning. And I dissent from the Court’s contrary conclusion.”


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