Salinas v. Texas , 133 S.
Ct. 2174 (2013). Facts:In December of 1992 two brothers were found dead in their Houston home. Police, upon investigation, suspected foul play after discovering a series of shotgun shell casings scattered on the floor of the scene. This investigation led them to Geneavo Salinas, who voluntarily came in for questioning. Due to the nature of the discussion; Salinas was never told his Miranda Rights, thus leading him to believe that he was not a suspect. The questioning lasted approximately one hour and after answering questions in a cooperative manner, fell silent when asked about the murder weapon.
His demeanor change and uncomfortable gestures caught the attention of the investigator. Further analysis proved that the shotgun in Mr. Salinas’ possession was a match for the shotgun shell casings found in the scene of the crime and murder charges were filed in March, 1993.
Defendant attempted to contest his charges on the grounds that his silence was used against him, but the Texas Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals rejected said claims and the sentencing Issue: Can the defendants usage of silence as a response be considered a confession of guilt? Holding: Yes. Because the defendant did not clearly state that he was exercising his fifth amendment right to silence, his lack of responses was interpreted to be ambiguous. Reasoning:The invocation of the fifth amendment right is reserved for those who are looking to avoid answering a potentially incriminating question and from what was gathered at the hearing, Salinas was never in a position where he had to answer such a question. Although he was being questioned at the police station, the nature of the conversation did not suggest he would be placed in detention – thus legally allowing for the prosecutor to freely ask questions.
The concept of questioning a potential suspect without reading them their rights became hotly debated and caught the attention of many of the Supreme Court justices. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan did not agree with the ruling and stated that “no ritualistic formula is necessary to invoke the privilege”, thus challenging the correctness of the holding. Their dissent was noted, but the ruling stood as initially recorded.In addressing the outcome of a rather landmark case, it appeared as though the court had been split in the decision making.
With regard to the legality of the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that even if the defendant had vocalized his desire to invoke the fifth amendment protection, the courts would have denied it. The reason for this being that the testimony given by the prosecutor did not, in any capacity, force Salinas to omit a self-incriminating testimony (Salinas v. Texas, n.d.). Of the justices who expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the case, Justice Breyers response best summed up the difficult decision Salinas had to make. His interpretation was that Mr.
Salinas has to ultimately choose”between incrimination through speech and incrimination through silence” (Liptak,2013).Although I do believe that the courts made the correct decision in indicting Mr. Salinas for the deaths of the Garza brothers, I feel as though there is a discrepancy between what people expect to encounter when in an interrogatory situation and what occurred in this case. Generally speaking, Miranda rights are delivered prior to questioning and so it would make sense that Mr. Salinas would not have expected his responses to be used against him.
This is not to say that he should have approached the informal questioning with no regard for potential consequences, but a proper disclaimer could have established the nature and intentions of the questioning. In 2010 a case similar to that of Salinas v. Texas appeared on the docket. In the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, a Michigan court charged Van Chester Thompkins of a multitude of crimes including- but not limited to- first degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and a variety of charges surrounding the unlawful usage of firearms. As a final attempt, Thompkins insinuated that the confession he made was collected in a manner that was inconsistent with his fifth amendment right. The holding mirrored that of Salinas’ and Thompkins’ argument was deemed illegitimate and the ruling was affirmed (Berghuis v.
Thompkins, n.d)From what I have seen, this case and those that followed have caused a monumental shift in the way that law enforcement agencies and citizens alike handle questionings. Compared to before the 1992 case, law enforcement agencies are now able to narrow in on suspicious activities as minor as a pause in response. Unfortunately, this change has caused a subsequent shift in the amount of trust that civilians when in the presence of police officers. In a 2015 nationwide poll, people were asked whether or not law enforcement agents “routinely lie to serve their own interests” and the statistics speak volumes. According to the results, 31% of Americans believe they do. Specifically: 45% of African Americans, 41% of young people, and 39% of Democrats share in this belief (Schneider,2015).If I were an attorney, my advice to a client who is facing police questioning would be to treat it as if every word you say will be used against you.
By keeping this in the back of their minds, the client will be hyper-aware of their responses and present themselves in a manner that is calm and composed- regardless of what is asked. In my mind; the most important part of this case in particular was the noting of an obvious shift in demeanor and for this reason, It is imperative that the client understands the power of body language. Sourced cited:Berghuis v. Thompkins, Oyez, https://www.oyez.
org/cases/2009/08-1470Salinas v. Texas, Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/12-246Adam Liptak, A 5-4 Ruling, One of Three, Limits Silence’s Protection The New York Times (2013),http://www.
nytimes.com/2013/06/18/us/supreme-court-hands-down-three-decisions-that-are-5-to-4.htmlLisa Schmidt, Salinas v. Texas LII / Legal Information Institute (2013), https://www.law.cornell.
edu/supct/cert/12-246Bill Schneider, Do Americans trust their cops to be fair and just? New poll contains surprises. Reuters(2015),http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/01/15/one-third-of-americans-believe-police-lie-routinely/