Articles Posted in Miranda Rights

In the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence, there is perhaps no greater rights that has been drilled into the minds of the public than those of the “Miranda Warning”. From movies to television shows, Law and Order to CSI, no phrase is more ubiquitous in cop dramas than the warnings enshrined in Miranda. However, these warnings, in their ubiquity are not fully understood by the American public. Such ignorance; the very reason why the Supreme Court enshrined these rights[1], has proven the warnings ineffective at actually informing suspects of what their rights actually mean.

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What is a Miranda Warning

The Miranda warning developed from the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona[2]. In this landmark decision the Supreme Court consolidated four cases of individuals who, during police interrogations, where not specifically informed of either their fifth amendment right to remain silent[3], their sixth amendment right to counsel[4], or both of these rights. All four cases also involved suspects who sat through between two and fourteen hours of police interrogations before they confessed.

The protections enshrined in the ubiquitous words of the Miranda rights are meant to protect your right against self-incrimination. However, these rights are not self-executing, and require affirmative invocation in order to be effective. The need for invocation is particularly important regarding the right to remain silent.

20170619_153435-300x175Break your Silence to be Silent

In order to invoke your right to silence, you must affirmatively invoke that right[1]. Following the decision of Berghuis v. Thompkins[2] The Supreme Court in a 5-4 judgment has held that to invoke your right to remain silent, you must affirmatively invoke that right. If you fail to affirmatively invoke your right to silence but remain silent, that silence may be used against you to show that you had knowledge of your right to remain silent.

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When a suspect is in police custody and being questioned by an officer, Texas law requires police officers to meet multiple conditions and give the suspect various warnings before statements made by the suspect can be used against him at trial. By being aware of these requirements, Texas residents can gain insight into the protections Texas law provides to those accused of a crime.

Take for example the case of Steven Woods. The defense was able to establish that the interrogating officers did not fulfill the requirements needed to admit Woods’ oral statements, and therefore, the highest criminal court in Texas ruled that the trial court made a mistake by admitting Woods’ statement against him. Texas law requires that among the warnings officers must provide when questioning an individual who is in custody, officers must inform the individual that he has the right to terminate the questioning at any time. In Wood’s case, officers failed to meet this requirement, thus his statement should not have been admitted against him at trial.
The other warnings officers must provide include telling the suspect/defendant that:
1. s/he has the right to remain silent;
2. s/he does not have to make any statement at all;
3. any statement made may be used as evidence against him in court at trial and;
4. s/he has the right to have a lawyer present to advise before and during any interrogation. (If the suspect cannot hire a lawyer, he has the right to have a lawyer appointed.)

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iStock_000006052358XSmall.jpgThe right to remain silent is a hot topic of Constitutional rights. In a brief nutshell, this is how the right to remain silent works. A defendant’s silence cannot be used in Court to show his or her guilt. When a defendant can invoke this right, however, is a little bit of a tricky concept. First and foremost, the defendant has to be under arrest to invoke his right to remain silent. If a police officer arrests a suspect, the officer must read the suspect his Miranda rights, which includes the right to remain silent. There are other areas where silence receives different Constitutional treatment, such as the right to remain silent and not testify during trial. A criminal defendant’s silence is usually protected by the Constitution and not allowed to be used by the prosecution to prove guilt.

However, a recent Supreme Court decision has created new limits and rules on the right to silence. This decision is based on a recent Texas criminal case involving Genovevo Salinas. The defendant in this case was at a party that got out of hand. Shots were fired at the party and two men were killed as a result. The police found Salinas at the party and brought him in for questioning. Salinas had a shotgun that he turned over to the police and he began answering their questions. He was being cooperative until the police asked him why the shotgun shells that were found at the crime scene matched Salinas’s shotgun. Salinas did not answer this question and instead remained silent. At this point, Salinas was not under a formal arrest and was not given his Miranda warnings as a result.

Salinas was eventually charged with murder. During his trial, the prosecution aggressively used his silence about the shotgun during closing arguments. Salinas was convicted and appealed his case. His case eventually made it to the Supreme Court. When it reached the Supreme Court Justices, the main issue was whether the defendant’s silence could be used during the closing argument. The Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that the silence was usable because it was pre-Miranda silence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals explained that “pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and that prosecutors may comment on such silence regardless of whether a defendant testifies.” Justice Samuel Alito further explained “Salinas’ Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question. It has long been settled that the privilege ‘generally is not self-executing’ and that a witness who desires its protection must claim it.” So if you remain silent before you get arrested, that silence can be used to show your guilt unless you CLAIM your right to remain silent.