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Salinas v. Texas

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 17, 2013
Case #: 12-246
Alito, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, J., joined. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Scalia, J., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-246_1p24.pdf

Criminal Procedure: Noncustodial witnesses must verbally assert their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination for it to have effect. Silence from a noncustodial witness does not imply that the witness asserts their privilege against self-incrimination even when the witness's silence is in reliance of their privilege against self-incrimination.

Petitioner voluntarily met with police and answered questions during a murder investigation. When asked whether the ballistics of his shotgun would match those linked to the murder, Petitioner said nothing, and the police moved to other questions. Petitioner was later charged with murder, and over Petitioner's objection, the Respondent raised Petitioner's silence in response to questioning. Petitioner appealed, claiming a violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Texas Court of Appeals rejected his argument, allowing evidence of his silence to stand because his noncustodial statement was not "compelled" under Miranda v. Arizona. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed.

There are two exceptions for the need to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege: (1) an unqualified right not to speak; and (2) the privilege is inferred when government coercion compels a statement. Petitioner sought a third exception for noncustodial silence, but the Supreme Court refused to extend the exception to silence by noncustodial witnesses. The Court reasoned that noncustodial witnesses such as Petitioner aren't compelled to speak to police, and don’t possess any unqualified privilege against self-incrimination. Witnesses must verbally assert the privilege against self-incrimination. Silence, even when witnesses are relying on the privilege, is insufficient.