In June 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided Salinas v. Texas.  The effect of this decision further nips away at our 5th Amendment Constitutional right to remain silent—part of what we all hear on cop TV shows and movies as our “Miranda rights.”

In that case, Mr. Salinas voluntarily went to the police department to clear his name in a murder investigation.  He WAS NOT under arrest—a KEY fact). When the police interviewed him, they asked “Would the shotgun shells left at the murder scene match your shotgun?”

Mr. Salinas  said nothing in response, but apparently looked down and bit his lip. He was later arrested and tried for the murder.  During the criminal trial, the prosecution was allowed to use Mr. Salinas’ silence in response to this question as evidence against him. As a result, Salinas was convicted.

Affirming his conviction, the  U.S. Supreme Court held that his silence COULD be used as evidence against him, since he did not say anything to insist on his 5th Amendment right to remain silent.

In making its decision, the Supreme Court relied on another case it had decided in 2010 – Berghuis v. Thompkins. The defendant in that case remained silent for several hours while police questioned him.  However, when police asked him “Do you believe in God?” the defendant replied “yes”. The Court determined that by answering that question, the defendant waived his right to remain silent.  The soundbite from Berghuis was “Use it or Lose it!”

The U. S. Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases provide two valuable lessons:

  1. A person that is NOT in custody while at the police department DOES NOT have the same constitutional rights as someone who has been arrested and is in custody.
  2. If you don’t want your silence used against you (i.e. the fact that you did not say anything in response to an incriminating question) YOU MUST MAKE IT CLEAR that you are asserting your right to remain silent!

If you or someone you know is accused of a crime, arrested, or contacted by police, contact San Jose criminal defense attorney Maureen Baldwin at (408) 279-4450 to learn your options today!