1.18.2013

Right To Remain Silent Used as Evidence of Guilt

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." -Amendment V, US Constitution



Genovevo Salinas was arrested in 2007 and charged with capital murder in the case of a 1992 double-homicide where two brothers were gunned down in a Houston, Texas apartment. 

The first trial ended in a mistrial, but in the second trial new evidence was introduced and the suspect was convicted. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal and decide whether that evidence used against the suspect was admissible, or whether the evidence put before the jury was a violation of his rights.  


Under interrogation by police, Salinas answered questions for approximately an hour before falling silent when asked specific questions about ammunition used in the crime. At the time of his questioning, the suspect was not under arrest and had not been issued his "Miranda warning" informing him of his rights. A police officer testified during the second trial, over the objections of the defense, that Salinas showed signs of deception during that interrogation. 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction but noted that federal appeals courts are split as to whether "pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence is admissible as substantive evidence of guilt."

In other words, SCOTUS must now decide if you have the right to remain silent, under the 5th Amendment, before you have been arrested.  

A report from Reuters states...
"... Texas opposed the appeal, saying that the protection against compulsory self-incrimination is irrelevant when a suspect is under no compulsion to speak, as Salinas was because he was not under arrest and was speaking voluntarily. It also said that any error was harmless."
Now that sounds like a lot of legalese double-speak to me.

Looking into the case a little more on the side, it does appear to me that the guy is probably guilty. The question he refused to answer was later proved through forensics, not testimony of the suspect. But that is not really the question here. How we reach a verdict is as important, if not more important than the verdict itself. Sure, today it is easy to convict a habitual criminal druggie border jumper in what appears to be a pretty much routine open and shut case. What happens though, when this precedent is used to convict someone like yourself perhaps, in a case that is not so clear, and where you might truly be innocent?

So the question today is simply this... Can the police tell a jury you are guilty because of when or how you chose to stop answering their questions?

The state of Texas says yes, that they can now submit as criminal evidence, your refusal to speak with police if you are not under arrest. Imagine, for a moment, the real precedent that is about to be set here.

If SCOTUS rules in favor or Texas, this means that from now on, the police will be able to use your refusal to speak with them, as evidence of a crime. Not only will this be allowed to be submitted to a jury as presumptuous, biased and prejudicial evidence of guilt, but also as grounds for a warrant. In other words, if you refuse to answer the door for police, that could be used as criminal evidence and grounds for a warrant to search your home! Not to mention, of course, many other miscarriages of justices such a ruling could make precedent for.

Where Texas says that their "error was harmless," they are admitting right up front that they did in fact screw up. If, based on the preponderance of other evidence the man still appears guilty to a jury of his peers, then so be it. Let him rot all the rest of his days in a penitentiary. But the Supreme Court must not allow this "harmless error" to set the precedent for all of American justice.

Shame on the Texas prosecutor for even jeopardizing this conviction with such a weak and unconstitutional bit of evidence.

"It is better that ten guilty persons escape justice than one guilty person be condemned." ~Blackstone's Formulation


Also see:

Federal Evidence Review





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