On June 17, 2013 the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in a case named Salinas v. Texas. Although not heavily publicized, the decision in Salinas may have far reaching negative consequences on the constitutional rights of citizens.

The decision in Salinas had to do with whether a person’s silence (refusing to answer a question) can be used against them as a sign of guilt.

As a bit of background, after a person is arrested (or detained) and the police start an interrogation, the Miranda warnings must be given unless there is some sort of emergency circumstance. The Miranda warning reads as follows:

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to a lawyer if you cannot afford one, one will be provided…etc.”

Miranda rights are simply an extension of a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. If someone is arrested, and they are not read this warning, anything they say cannot be used to establish their guilt. The Supreme Court has also historically held that if anyone declines to take the witness stand during the trial, the prosecutor can’t attack that choice to the jury.

With respect to the Salinas decision; the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a person’s silence can be used against them BEFORE being arrested or detained. In summary, the Court said “yes.” If a person chooses to remain silent and not answer the officer’s questions, even before being arrested or detained, the officer and the government are allowed to use this silence as an indication of guilt. This appears to be a clear cut violation of a person’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, but according to the Supreme Court, before being detained by a police officer, it is a person’s responsibility to affirmatively invoke their right to remain silent.

Since this decision is very new, it is unclear how the New York courts will treat this practice by police officers. Fortunately, in the State of New York, the legislature and Courts institute and uphold laws that are more protective of individual citizens rights. However, until the time when the New York courts take up this question, it remains to be seen how Salinas will be addressed in New York.

At LaMarche Safranko Law, we are committed to staying informed and up to date on the latest developments in the law.