Supreme Court Places Limits on Right to Remain Silent

Tuesday, 18 Jun 2013 12:21 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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In a 5-4 conservative-liberal decision, the Supreme Court Monday placed limits on the use of the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, saying that a defendant's silence in some cases still can be used against them, according to The Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the four liberals on the court in a second opinion holding that defendants are entitled to a jury's findings, and not a judge's opinion alone, on evidence that could lead to an increase in their mandatory minimum sentence on conviction.

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The Fifth Amendment case concerned Genovevo Salinas, who was charged and convicted in Texas for the 1992 shooting deaths of two brothers. Salinas had agreed to speak with police about the murders, answering questions at first and then going silent when asked if his shotgun "would match the shells recovered" at the scene, according to the Journal.

His refusal to answer questions about the shotgun helped lead to his conviction.

The court ruled that Salinas agreed to talk before he was ever formally placed in custody, and accompanied the police voluntarily. For that reason, the court ruled he would not have been entitled to a Miranda warning about his rights, nor could he specifically invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the liberals on the court, dissented, noting that Salinas had been forced to "choose between incrimination through speech and incrimination through silence." Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan agreed.

The mandatory-sentencing ruling involved the case of a Virginia judge who overruled a jury and sentenced a defendant to an eight-year mandatory minimum prison sentence after testimony showed that a gun was not only present during a robbery, but was "brandished."

This added three years to what would have been a five-year sentence. The court's decision, written by Thomas, overturned a 2002 lower-court decision that judges have the right to set minimum sentences instead of juries, the Journal reported.

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