Your Right to Remain Silent
Posted on Aug 23, 2013 8:57am UTC
Most Americans are familiar with their Fifth Amendment right – specifically their right to remain silent. In criminal law, our right to remain silent is one of the most powerful rights we possess and one that the criminally accused should understand and exercise should the need arise. In the wake of a recent controversial Supreme Court ruling, however, your right to remain silent may not be as straightforward as it seems.
On June 17, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unprecedented ruling about the Fifth Amendment and criminal cases. In Salinas v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors can use an out-of-custody suspect’s silence when questioned by police as evidence of guilt.
What does this mean for those who currently stand accused or for those who may face criminal suspicion in the future? Potentially, a lot. Salinas vs. Texas was a case that involved a law enforcement officer who was questioning a murder suspect – later the defendant – who was not then in custody. Over the course of an hour, the officer asked several questions, which the suspect answered. The officer did not read the suspect his Miranda rights.
After several questions had already been answered, the officer asked whether a ballistics test would link the suspect’s gun to shell casings found at the scene of the crime. The suspect reportedly balked at this question, fidgeted, and did not answer. The officer then moved on to other questions that the suspect answered.
After the suspect was charged with murder, prosecutors argued that his reaction to the ballistics test question suggested his guilt. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that this argument was permissible and proper because the suspect did not clearly assert or invoke his Fifth Amendment right when he remained silent after the shell-casing question.
What to Do After You’ve Been Stopped or Arrested in Houston
The Supreme Court’s ruling is both unprecedented and a cause for considerable debate. Many are now arguing about whether it is reasonable to require a suspect to specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. Wherever this decision may lead, it can help those who currently stand accused or those who may be stopped, questioned, or arrested for a criminal offense in Houston to understand the importance of exercising their constitutional rights. Although cases may vary, you can remember the following points to help protect yourself and future defense should these situations arise:
- You do not have to answer questions from law enforcement officers.
- You have the right to request an attorney before answering any questions.
In addition to these rights – and because of this recent ruling – it may also be best for suspects to clearly invoke their Fifth Amendment right to silence. If you find yourself in a situation such as this, politely inform the officer that you do not wish to answer questions and / or that you with to have a lawyer present. Doing so can ensure that you do not say anything that can be used against you later, as well as ensuring that even your silence cannot be used against you in a court of law.
At Billy Skinner & Associates, a Houston criminal defense lawyer is prepared to immediately respond to your call for help. Attorney Billy Skinner works closely with clients, educates them about their rights, and fights aggressively on their behalf. For more information about your right to remain silent – or to discuss your case and defense – contact a Houston criminal attorney or request a free case evaluation today.