You have the right to remain silent…as long as you’re in custody and have been mirandized.
In Salinas v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed an issue about which it and the Supreme Court have remained silent while many other courts across the nation are split; whether the state may comment on an accused’s silence prior to his arrest and Miranda warnings.
In Salinas, the appellant was convicted for murder and sentenced to 20 years in the penitentiary after the state introduced evidence during guilt/innocence about his refusal to answer a question about the possibility of the shotgun shells found on scene matching the shotgun found at his residence. Appellant refused to answer the question, choosing to remain silent, at a time prior to his arrest and before the police had issued any Miranda warnings. The defense argued the state was solely using the testimony regarding appellant’s silence as evidence of his guilt in violation of the 5th Amendment.
The Fourteenth Court of Appeals (Houston) affirmed the trial court’s decision to allow the questioning, focusing on the difference between post-arrest, post-Miranda silence and pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence. The court of appeals noted that the appellant voluntarily answered questions by police for over an hour before refusing to answer the ballistics question. Citing Justice Stevens concurring opinion in Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980) the CCA held:
the Fifth Amendment right against compulsory self-incrimination is “irrelevant to a citizen’s decision to remain silent when he is under no official compulsion to speak.”
The CCA spent little time in this opinion to proclaim loudly it affirms the Fourteenth Court’s holding:
The plain language of the Fifth Amendment protects a defendant from compelled self-incrimination. In pre-arrest, pre-Miranda circumstances, a suspect’s interaction with police officers is not compelled.
Now, we will continue waiting for SCOTUS to speak up on the issue hoping they don’t continue exercising their right to remain silent…
UPDATE: US Supreme Court opinion – Salinas Supreme Court Opinion