When the supreme court makes a decision on a controversial court case, a long line of ramifications are going to follow no matter what political landscape an individual is in. In the case of Salinas v. Texas it can be shown just how exactly a supreme court case can affect other future court cases and potentially day-to-day interaction with law enforcement. Even though the law may be written a certain way, it could be practically applied in a manner that might undermine what the law is supposed to stand for in the first place.
In this particular case, it all started when a homicide takes place where two brothers were shot and only six shotgun shells are left at the scene of the crime. Among the possible suspects is a young man named, Genovevo Salinas, who was confirmed to be attending a party that was at same house the night before the shooting. Consequently, the police asked Salinas to come with them to the police station where he answers multiple questions voluntarily for about an hour. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology has a very good article detailing the whole ordeal. Among my findings, it was clear that the situation gets tense for Salinas when he is asked if he saw anyone suspicious at the party, because he shuffles his feet, bites his bottom lip, clenches his hands in his lap, and begins to tighten up. Next he answers some more questions and leaves the station without answering that one question, and soon after he is arrested for murder. A ballistics analysis later matched Salinas’ gun with the casing at the scene, along with a with a witness who states that Salinas admitted to the murders. Consequently, Salinas was charged with murder but could not be located until 15 years later. The first trial ended in a mistrial, but the second trial is when the prosecution attempts to introduce evidence of Salina’s silence about the gun casings and that he suspicious behavior while being silent. Salinas objected, arguing that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination whether he was in custody or not. The evidence was admitted and Salinas was sentenced to 20 years in prison with a 5,000 dollar fine.
Taking in account that Genovevo is a young immigrant who was living in an impoverished New York City, he was unlikely to know that he had the right to not incriminate himself by openly saying that he was exercising his fifth amendment right. While the Supreme Court recognizes this right exists and is constitutional in nature, an ongoing discussion over the precise scope and requirement for the application of this law when looking for evidence of guilt still drives much controversy to this day. Courts have addressed this issue by considering when, if at all, the Fifth Amendment protects citizens from either the Self-Incrimination Clause or the Due Process Clause when tied to a defendant’s silence. As a result, the court evaluated the constitutionality of adverse inferences of guilt from the lack of answering questions across three phases of the arrest process: (1) silence occurring before arrest during a voluntary interview with police officers; (2) silence occuring after arrest but before receipt of Miranda warnings; and (3) silence occuring after both arrest and receipt of Miranda warnings. With this evaluation, their is no doubt that this is something the average joe in America is most likely not aware of without a police officer informing them about their right to remain silent and what you say is admissible in court.
In Salinas v. Texas the court announced a procedural requirement that criminal suspects must first expressly invoke their right to remain silent in order to later on object any adverse inference at trial on Fifth Amendment grounds. Salinas, who was not given his miranda rights and sat silent when asked one question and by not even saying something on the line of I don’t want to answer that, he still had his silence used against him. The court has already stated in previous cases that using a suspect’s silence after invoking the individual’s’ miranda rights is unconstitutional. It can be implied that by simpleing using some magical words,’ a criminal suspect’s silence cannot be used against them in the court as evidence of guilt and I believe this can be negative for America in the long run. In the Faulkner Law Review, titled, Speak Or Be Sentenced, The High Price Of Pre-Arrest Silence, the author states that state courts have more of a structured rule for them to follow in pre-arrest than what is in place before. The author, Andrew Odom concludes, As the Fifth Amendment continues to be narrowed, there will be an increasing role in state constitutional and evidentiary provisions to flesh out the gaps in Fifth Amendment protection that are left by the Supreme Court. As seen in the Salinas case, there is still overlap on what is considered to be protected by the Fifth Amendment and what is not which can be seen between the Federal and State Courts.
Having our rights narrowed by the Supreme Court in a way that can only be interpreted by the particular state, makes me question how free citizens across America actually are. By inclining citizens to verbally express their right would not be the first time a law has been given stricter guidelines, and this just gives less control to the people when having a simple conversation with the police. I can see why the court decided to send the evidence behind the silence in Salinas’ particular case with all of his other signs with looking guilty. However, that just leaves the door open in the future for this case to be used in a manner that might not exactly be appropriate. When discussing the Fourteenth Amendment, the Georgia Law Review, has a very unique perspective. Evelyn French states, beyond the constitutional protections the selective silence doctrine would also help curb the continuing public policy concerns surrounding coerced statements and confessions. The author displays one of the safeguards of having the Fifth Amendment for citizens in an interrogation. Having said that, with the Salinas case ruling, Americans can see how when in a non-custodial setting, it is not implied that we are protected by silence when asked a question.
This issue on when silence can be used as evidence of guilt is not something that all Supreme Court Justices can agree upon. Three of the justices believe that analysis of guilt should focus on words, deeds and circumstances of the questioning. It is unfortunate that not citizens do not have as much autonomy as they would when on trial, because I believe the law should be treated the same whether a citizen is on trial or not. If this was the case, then there would not be so many grey areas on prosecuting guilty people. Unfortunately in Salinas’ case he was an example of how the law cannot be dependable. The Mercer Law Review, discusses the plurality between the judges decisions and how the Supreme Court came to their choice. On page 10, the author states, [But popular misconceptions notwithstanding, 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. A witness'[s] constitutional right to refuse to answer questions depends on his reasons for doing so, and courts need to know those reasons to evaluate the merits of a Fifth Amendment claim. This was a quote from Supreme Court Justice Alito who decided that the silence could be used as evidence against Salinas. Having the knowledge that your silence is not protected by the Fifth Amendment, can give more power the citizens to not let themselves look guilty when they might not be. In Salinas’ case, there was only one way to not get prosecuted, and that was by assuming his innocence when he did not answer that one question.
Controversial cases like this displays the complexity of what can be considered as evidence and what cannot. I do not doubt that future court cases will point to Salinas v. Texas when dealing with other court cases, and I could see that infringing on other people’s right to not incriminate themselves. Since citizens know that they have to answer questions from law enforcement now, they might say something that the cop wants to hear when it could be false without the person being aware of that. Then the officer could use the suspects words against them and find a way to build a case when it might inappropriate to do so. With the Supreme Court tightening the laws behind the Fifth Amendment, Americans are at more of disadvantage when dealing with Law Enforcement than ever before.
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