Thursday, June 20, 2013

Silence isn't good enough. When confronted by police, you must tell the cops you won't talk, SCOTUS says

When confronted by police, you have the right to remain silent. The Supreme Court of the United States says that to preserve that right, you have to actually say you're not going to talk. " I refuse to talk. I want a lawyer," for example.

Simply keeping quiet when police ask damaging questions is not claiming a right to silence, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled Monday.

The Court ruled prosecutors may use the silence against the suspect at the trial. They can NOT use your silence if you invoke your right to remain silent by saying, "I refuse to talk. I want a lawyer."

If an individual is voluntarily talking to the police, he or she must claim the Fifth Amendment right of silence, or lose it; simply saying nothing won’t do, according to the ruling.

The Court had agreed to hear the case of Salinas v. Texas to decide whether it violates a person's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when prosecutors use pre-arrest silence as evidence of guilt.   But the Court did not reach that issue, since it said that one must say something that invokes the Amendment’s protection, or else it does not apply.  Prosecutors’ use of the silence is then permitted, the Court ruled.

“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,” Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., wrote.

The Court rejected the argument that, because suspects do not know the law, their silence should be understood as a Fifth Amendment plea. I am sympathetic with Salinas' contention that most people don't know the law, but that position is not the law. The law says ignorance of the law is no excuse, so if you're going to refuse to talk and wish to remain silent, simply invoke that right by saying, "I refuse to talk. I want a lawyer." You may have to say it over and over, but keep saying it until the cops leave you alone.

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