WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seemed worried Wednesday about letting prosecutors use a suspect's pre-Miranda silence against them in court.
The justices heard an appeal from Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted in a 1992 murder. During police questioning, and before he was arrested or read his Miranda rights, Salinas did not answer when asked if a shotgun he had access to would match up with the murder weapon. Prosecutors in Texas used his silence to convict him of murder, saying it demonstrated guilt.
Salinas appealed, saying his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent should have kept lawyers from using his silence against him in court. Texas courts disagreed, saying pre-Miranda silence is not protected from use by prosecutors by the Constitution.
The court is reviewing that decision. Salinas' lawyer Jeffrey Fisher called prosecutors' desire to tell juries' about a suspect's silence "a trap for the unwary," with most Americans thinking they have a right to remain silent when confronted with the police.
Prosecutors want people to tell police they are remaining silent or they could tell juries their silence is a sign of guilt. "All the defendant would have to say is 'I don't want to talk,'" said Assistant District Attorney Alan K. Curry of Houston.
Several justices seemed very concerned, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor calling the prosecutors' use of silence against a defendant a "radical position," and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calling it "troublesome."
The court will rule later this year.