Salinas v. Texas

Following is the case brief for Salinas v. Texas, Supreme Court of the United States, (2013)

Case summary for Salinas v. Texas:

  • Salinas voluntarily went down to a police station regarding a murder, resulting in the death of two victims.
  • Before being taken into custody or read his Miranda rights, Salinas answered several questions asked by police officers.
  • When asked whether the bullet casing found at the scene of the crime would match his gun, Salinas sat in silence and looked down at the ground. The prosecution used Salinas’ physical response against him as proof of guilt and Salinas appealed.
  • Silence is insufficient to invoke the privilege. The prosecution was allowed to use Salinas’s reaction to the question about his shotgun against him in court.

Case Brief for Salinas v. Texas

Statement of the facts:

Salinas went to the police station to answer questions regarding a murder investigation.  At this time, Salinas was neither in custody nor provided a Miranda warning. After answering multiple questions, one of the officers asked if his gun would match the gun shells that were found at the scene of the crime. In response, Salinas bit his lip, looked down at the floor, clenched his hands and provided no verbal answer. After this non-verbal response, Salinas was charged with murder and his reaction was used at trial as proof of evidence of guilt. Salinas objected, claiming the introduction of such evidence violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Procedural History:

Salinas was convicted and appealed to the United States Supreme Court by writ of certiorari.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Silence alone, in response to an officer’s question does not sufficiently invoke the witness’s right against self-incrimination, even if the officer thinks the response may yield an incriminating response.

Issue and Holding:

Does a witness’s silent response to an officer’s question sufficiently invoke the witness’s right against self-incrimination when the officer thinks the response may result in an incriminating response? No.

Judgment:

The Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment.

Reasoning:

Under the Fifth Amendment, the privilege against self-incrimination generally will not be invoked by silence. The Court held that the actual right to remain silent is a bit of a misnomer. Even if an officer thinks that a question could lead to an incriminating answer, an express invocation of the right to remain silent is required to assert the right.

Here, Salinas asked the Court to make an exception for “cases at [the] intersection” of these rules regarding the suspect’s silence and the officer’s suspicion. The Court held that Salinas’s position cannot be reconciled with existing precedent. This is because silence is insufficient to invoke the privilege. As a result, the state was permitted to use Salinas’s response to the question against him in court.

Concurring or Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (Thomas):

Here, the defendant’s silence did not fall within the Fifth Amendment, since the silence occurred during a non-custodial interrogation.

Dissenting (Breyer):

The surrounding circumstances regarding the officer questioning should be considered in regards to the suspect’s silence to invoking their right against self-incrimination. The appropriate question to ask in cases like the above is: “Can one fairly infer from an individual’s silence and surrounding circumstances an exercise of the Fifth Amendment’s privilege?”                                                                                             

Significance:

This landmark case helped establish the importance of being in police custody in order to invoke the right to remain silent.

Student Resources:

https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/570/12-246/
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-246

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