Civil and Human Rights

TV (NY1/Time Warner): SCOTUS Rulings Speak Out On Miranda Rights, Minimum Stays

By Geoff Bennett

 

In the case Salinas v. Texas, a sharply divided court ruled 5-4 that silence can and will be held against you if you remain silent before police read your Miranda rights.

 

The decision stems from a 1992 Texas double murder in which the suspect voluntarily answered police questions for almost an hour, but stopped talking when police asked about shotgun shells found at the crime scene.

 

Prosecutors used that silence as evidence of guilt and the suspect was convicted.

 

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the Fifth Amendment claim against self-incrimination failed because the suspect failed to invoke it.

 

In his dissent, Alito wrote, “It has long been settled that the privilege ‘generally is not self-executing’ and that a witness who desires its protection ‘must claim it.'”

 

But legal experts say what constitutes a claim is unclear.

 

“I think there’s some question about how this would play out in real life. Do you have to say the words, ‘I invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination?'” said Constitutional Accountability Center Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra.

 

In another case, Alleyne v. the United States, the court ruled 5-4 that judges cannot issue findings that raise mandatory minimum sentences. That’s for a jury to decide.

 

In that case, the justices overturned the sentencing of a suspect convicted of robbery and firearm possession, after the judge raised the minimum sentence by two years.

 

Justice Clarence Thomas joined the court’s four liberals and wrote the majority opinion.

 

“This is a really surprising case that Justice Thomas would side with the liberals. I have a hard time thinking of another time that we’ve seen a case like that,” said American University Law Professor Jon Gould.

 

Tuesday’s rulings aside, there could be more surprises as the Supreme Court finishes its term next week.

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