With yesterday’s decision, Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court has unwittingly shown once again why you should never talk to the police. The defendant in that case, Genovevo Salinas, went into the police station with the understanding the police were trying to clear him as a suspect. As should be clear from the record, the police had no intention of clearing him. They wanted him to incriminate himself. Salinas continued answering their questions until the police asked if the shotgun in his home “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” At that point Salinas stopped talking.
At his trial, the prosecutor used Salinas’ silence as proof he was guilty. He asked the jury to infer that an innocent person would have protested their innocence. It should go without saying that for the privilege against self-incrimination to mean anything, silence cannot be proof of a person’s guilt. With yesterday’s decision, the Supreme Court said there was nothing improper about the prosecutor’s comments. According to the Court, Salinas needed to specifically state the magic words, “I’m going to exercise my right to remain silent.”
How a non-lawyer is supposed to know what magic words to utter is beyond me. There are just too many things a layperson cannot know and therefore should never attempt to talk to the police without a lawyer. This is equally true if you are innocent. Remember, the police already think you are guilty, or they would not be investigating you. No matter how eloquent you think you are, the police have more practice at interrogation.
June 18, 2013 at 1:58 PM
Am I crazy, or is this decision a logical fallacy? In order to actually exercise your right to remain silent, you have to say, “I am exercising my rights here.” If he had said, “I want to talk to my attorney,” would that have been acceptable? Did police read him his rights before they questioned him?
June 18, 2013 at 3:37 PM
Salinas was not formally under arrest. The police testified that Salinas was free to leave at any time. (I have my doubts whether that was literally true, but the Court accepted it as given.) Miranda warnings only need to be given to someone who has been formally arrested or to someone who did not have a reasonable expectation they could leave.
If he had said, “I want to talk to my attorney,” it would have been a different case, but as he was allegedly free to leave, he could have gone to a phone to get a lawyer (ostensibly).
But yes, this case strikes me as bizarre in that usually a person does not need to declare they are exercising their rights. You do not have to formally declare that you are exercising your right to free speech in order to enjoy your right to free speech.
Edit: As another Utah lawyer put it, “if you want to enjoy your right to remain silent before you’ve been arrested, you must not remain silent.”
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