SCOTUS: Shut up or Tell All

Yesterday the SCOTUS made a decision that sets a precedent that could affect anyone, as with all of their decisions, so it’s important to think about it.  This is my opinion as a layman as, like most of you, I’m not an attorney.  However, this decision seems like a new definition of the rights I thought I had as a citizen.  As I read this decision if you start talking you’d better keep talking or any subsequent silence on any question can be used as evidence against you.

The court’s more conservative wing ruled 5-4 that because Genovevo Salinas freely answered other questions while being questioned about two 1992 murders in Texas, prosecutors were free to use his refusal to answer one key question about the murder weapon.

While Miranda warnings — the right to remain silent — are freely offered and claimed once a suspect is in custody, things are a bit murkier beforehand. In Salinas’ case, police apparently never apprised him of that right, and he didn’t claim it. He just sat silent for one question. (USA Today, June 18, 2013)

This relates to a murder charge in a 1992 case in Texas but I won’t address whether Salinas should have been found guilty or innocent because this is about the precedent set for all of us regardless of guilt or innocence.

When he was questioned by the police, without his Miranda rights being read or being accused and arrested for anything it seems he answered all of their questions but one pertaining to the murder weapon.  Subsequently, his silence on that one question was used as evidence of his guilt at trial and the use of that one piece of evidence was challenged under the 5th amendment…our right to not have to incriminate ourselves.

It seems this ruling says you’d better claim the 5th as soon as the police begin questioning you because once you start talking you have to answer every question or the lack of an answer can be evidence.  This ruling seems to say that before you’re actually arrested and charged there is no requirement or allowance for Miranda rights which I find a little disturbing.

I don’t know about you but more than once I’ve let the police in, back in the days of “protect and serve,” and answered whatever questions they wanted to ask about whatever had occurred because I had nothing to hide.  However, after this decision I don’t know if I would be so forthcoming or if I should.

If the police knock on my door I don’t think I’ll be answering anything unless I’m being arrested, charged and read my Miranda rights first.  Suppose it’s a high-profile crime and they need someone to hang it on; couldn’t this be used against any of us whether we’re guilty or innocent?  I think this decision is likely to be a hindrance to law enforcement and prosecution because people won’t tend to be as helpful as they might have been without it.

References

Silence isn’t golden for suspect, Supreme Court rules. (n.d.). USA TODAY: Latest World and US News – USATODAY.com. Retrieved June 18, 2013, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/17/supreme-court-silence-texas-murder-miranda/2394317/

Author: Cheryl Creech

What say you, the people?