In an entirely unsurprising move, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court have once again weakened the minimal safeguards in the Bill of Rights for those accused of a crime. Specifically, they said that you don’t really have a right to remain silent until you’re informed of or have explicitly invoked that right. Tejinder Singh, who (if it’s the same person) was one of the best college debaters in the country a decade ago, gives the background on the case:
As almost all Americans who have ever watched television or gone to a movie know, the Supreme Court held in a case called Miranda v. Arizona that a criminal suspect who is in police custody must be advised of his right to remain silent; if the suspect chooses to remain silent, that silence cannot be used against him in a trial. The question before the Court in this case was whether this protection of silence applies before a suspect is actually arrested. The defendant in this case, Genevevo Salinas, voluntarily went to the police station, where officers interviewed him about a pair of 1992 murders. When asked whether a shotgun given to police by his father would match shell casings found at the crime scene, Salinas did not answer. At his trial for the murders, prosecutors used Salinas’s silence as evidence of his guilt; Salinas was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Over the years, the lower courts had been divided on whether prosecutors can point to the “precustodial” silence of suspects. Today the Court resolved that conflict, holding that because Salinas failed to invoke his right to remain silent in response to the officers’ questions, his silence was fair game at his trial. The Court reasoned that the privilege against self-incrimination applies only when it is asserted, and that merely remaining silent in response to questions is not enough.
And Jonathon Turley points out one of the big problems with this ruling:
Of course, now the police need only to ask questions before putting some into custody to use their silence against them. What is particularly troublesome is how subjective this evidence is. To use the silence and demeanor of a suspect on this question is highly prejudicial and equally unreliable. Yet, now the refusal to answer questions (which is your right) can now be used against you…
This ruling will likely open up an entire area of new prosecutorial arguments using silence as evidence of guilt. It is a major blow to the rights of citizens — and a telling addition to the troubling judicial legacy of Alito.
This kind of judicial hair-splitting only serves to undermine due process. What’s next, a requirement that the accused has to say “Simon says” before they actually have the rights guaranteed in the constitution?
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