Genoveno Salinas v. Texas, (No. 12-246) U.S. Supreme Court
On June 17, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejecting petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim. On December 18, 1992 two brothers were shot and killed in their Houston home. Police recovered six shotgun casings at the scene and followed leads that lead to the defendant. The defendant agreed to hand over his shotgun for ballistics testing and follow police to the station for questioning. During the one hour noncustodial interview the defendant answered questions and was not read his Miranda warning. The defendant answered most questions, but when asked if his shotgun would match casings from the crime scene, defendant looked down and remained silent. After not answering the question, he continued to answer the next set of interview questions. Police decided to release him and before formal charges could be brought the defendant absconded. In 2007, the defendant was found. At trial, the prosecutor used the defendant’s silence as evidence of guilt.
On appeal the defendant argued his Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the prosecutor. Both the Court of Appeals and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court on reasoning that the defendant’s pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence was not compelled. The U.S. Supreme did not find the defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination was invoked in the interview. The long standing protection of the Fifth Amendment must be invoked by a witness. See Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. 427 (1984). Without having the privilege being required to be invoked, the government may be denied information that is within its scope. Just because a witness does not desire to answer does not mean that information is constitutionally protected. Applying the privilege every time a person is silent would place too much of a burden on the government. There are only two exceptions to the requirement of invoking privilege: 1) a criminal defendant need not take the stand to invoke his privilege, and 2) a witness’s failure to invoke the privilege must be excused when the government coerces the witness. The defendant cannot benefit from the established exceptions since it is undisputed that the defendant volunteered to the interview, could have invoked the privilege at any point, and was free to leave at any time during the interview. Had the defendant not been allowed to leave the interview, his appeal would fall under the second exception.
The U.S. Supreme Court found no evidence that the defendant’s failure to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege was involuntary and therefore the prosecutor’s use of his noncustodial silence did not violate the Fifth Amendment. The Court rejects the defendant’s argument that his conduct should invoke the privilege or that police will trick suspects into cooperating if suspects must invoke their rights. The take away is that in order for individuals to protect themselves from the use of their silence in criminal matters they must invoke their privilege at the onset of any cooperation with the government. Before their Miranda rights have been given, individuals cooperating with police are the most at risk for failing to protect their constitutional right to not self-incriminate.