Supreme Court to decide on whether refusal to answer police questions prior to arrest can be used against suspect
The US Supreme Court
agreed Friday to decide whether prosecutors can use an individualís refusal to answer police questions as evidence of guilt at a subsequent trial if the silence came prior to being taken into police custody.
The issue arises in a 1992 Texas
double murder case involving a man who was voluntarily answering a series of questions by police at a police station but then refused to answer when officers posed a specific query: whether his shotgun would match shells recovered at the scene of the killings.
At his trial, the prosecutor sought to use Mr. Salinasís silence as evidence of guilt. The prosecutor told the jury: ďYou know, if you asked somebody Ė there is a murder in New York City, is your gun going to match up [with] the murder in New York City?... An innocent person is going to say: What are you talking about? I didnít do that. I wasnít there. He [Salinas] didnít respond that way. He didnít say: No, itís not going to match up.ĒThe jury convicted Salinas of the double murder. The conviction was upheld on appeal.In urging the US Supreme Court to hear Salinasís case, his lawyers noted that federal appeals courts and state supreme courts are sharply divided over the issue.Ten courts have ruled that the Fifth Amendment right to silence in the face of police questioning extends to pre-arrest contacts, while nine other courts have ruled that there is no such protection before someone is in police custody or given Miranda warnings.