A divided Supreme Court held that prosecutors may argued that a defendant’s un-Mirandized reaction to an officer’s question can suggest guilt.
The case is SALINAS v. TEXAS, No. 12–246 (Decided June 17, 2013).
The case began in 1992 when two brothers were shot and killed in their Houston home. There were no witnesses to the murders, but a neighbor who heard gunshots saw someone run out of the house and speed away in a dark-colored car. Police recovered six shotgun shell casings at the scene.
The defendant had been a guest at a party the victims hosted the night before. He agreed to hand over his shotgun to the police for ballistics testing and to accompany police to the station for questioning.
The defendant was not read Miranda warnings. See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966). The defendant answered the officer’s questions until he was asked whether his shotgun “would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder.” At that time, he “[l]ooked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, cl[e]nched his hands in his lap, [and] began to tighten up.” At his trial, prosecutors used his reaction to the officer’s question as evidence of his guilt.
Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy, found that no the prosecutor’s action was legitimate because the defendant never asserted his right to remain silent. Justice Alito suggested that it was “undisputed that [the defendant’s interview with police was voluntary.”