US Supreme Court to rule on “Miranda” rights prior to arrest
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments recently in a case that could affect the rights of individuals to refuse police questioning prior to being taken into custody.
As many people know, police officers are required to advise individuals of their right to remain silent when they are placed under arrest. Criminal suspects who waive their right to silence can have their statements used as evidence against them at trial. The law provides that an individual’s refusal to answer questions while in police custody cannot be used by prosecutors as evidence of the person’s guilt.
The case currently pending before the Supreme Court addresses the issue of whether a person’s refusal to answer police questions prior to being formally arrested can be used against him or her in court.
Timing of questioning was key
On April 17, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Salinas v. Texas, which centered on the investigation of the murder of two brothers in 1993. The defendant in the case, Genovevo Salinas, was questioned voluntarily at police headquarters about his relationship to the victims and his activities at the time of the killings.
According to prosecutors, Salinas cooperated with the investigation and answered questions for nearly an hour before finally refusing to answer a single question: whether a shotgun retrieved from his home would match shell casings found at the crime scene.
Salinas was later arrested and charged with the killings. At trial, prosecutors claimed that his refusal to answer the question prior to his arrest provided evidence of his guilt. An innocent man, they argued, would have responded by denying his involvement in the crime. Salinas was subsequently convicted of killing the men and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
No escape from self-incrimination
On appeal before the Supreme Court, an attorney for Salinas argued that using his pre-arrest silence as evidence against him in court violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that a person facing criminal charges cannot be forced to testify against himself; this is frequently referred to as the right against self-incrimination. Invoking the right to remain silent is also known as “pleading the Fifth.”
Because the defendant’s silence was used against him, and because his words could have been used against him had he chosen to answer the question, Salinas’ attorney argued that he had no way to avoid incriminating himself, and therefore that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated.
The outcome of the Salinas case could have a major impact on the way that criminal investigations and prosecutions take place in the United States. If the Court rules in favor of Salinas, it could significantly expand the Constitutional protections available to people charged with criminal offenses. If, on the other hand, the Court upholds the conviction, it would place more power in the hands of police and investigators to question suspects before placing them under arrest, potentially making them more likely to incriminate themselves without the protection of the Fifth Amendment.
Call an attorney if questioned by police
When being questioned by law enforcement or prosecutors, always be aware that your statements could end up being used against you in a criminal investigation or prosecution – whether or not you have been formally arrested. If you or someone close to you is arrested or questioned about a potential criminal investigation, seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. An attorney with an extensive background in criminal defense will make sure your rights are protected and will work vigorously on your behalf to defend against the charges.