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Supreme Court: For right to remain silent, a suspect must speak

Just being silent is not enough. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that a suspect's silence during informal police questioning can be used as evidence of guilt unless the right is invoked.


U.S. History students from Austin, Minn. High School visit the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2013, in anticipation of key decisions being announced. With a week remaining in the current Supreme Court term, several major cases are still outstanding that could have widespread political impact on same-sex marriage, voting rights, and affirmative action.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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Prosecutors can use a suspect’s silence during informal police questioning as evidence of guilt at a subsequent trial, the US Supreme Court said on Monday.

In a case with important implications for individuals at the early stages of a police investigation, the high court said that a suspect must verbally invoke his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to prevent police and prosecutors from using any resulting silence and incriminating body language as evidence of guilt during a jury trial.

“The Fifth Amendment guarantees that no one may be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; it does not establish an unqualified right to remain silent,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

“Before petitioner could rely on the privilege against self-incrimination, he was required to invoke it,” Justice Alito added in turning aside an appeal by a defendant convicted of murder in Texas.

The high court split 5 to 4 on the issue, with the court’s five-member conservative wing rejecting a claim to the Fifth Amendment privilege in the case under scrutiny and the four-member liberal wing supporting such a claim.

The issue arose in the case of Genovevo Salinas, who was charged and convicted in the shooting death of two brothers in Texas in 1992.

During the initial stages of the police investigation, detectives conducted an informal interview with Mr. Salinas. He was not under arrest and police had not advised him of his right to remain silent or consult a lawyer.


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