On June 17th, the Supreme Court decided to pass a “landmark decision” in regards to Salinas v. Texas which impacts how one can go about claiming the right to not incriminate oneself (otherwise known as “pleading the fifth”). The decision essentially stated that when an individual is not placed under arrest, the individual must explicitly evoke their 5th amendment right and that simply remaining silent does not mean their right has been evoked. Depending upon the circumstances, this silence can be used to infer possible guilt of the party in question.
To really understand the context of this ruling, let me first start with a quick background to this decision.
This all started with a murder case conducted in a Texas state court. In 1992, Houston police officers found two homicide victims. The investigation had then led officers to Genovevo Salinas. Salinas voluntarily agreed to accompany the officers to the police station, where he was then questioned. At this time, Salinas was not under arrest and had not been read his Miranda rights. Salinas had the ability to leave at any point while he was being questioned.
Salinas answered every question until an officer asked him whether the shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime would match the shotgun found in Salinas’ home. At this point, the defendant fell silent and “looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, clenched his hands in his lap, and began to tighten up” (according to the statements made by the state prosecutor).
A ballistics analysis later matched Salinas’ gun with the casings at the scene. Police also found a witness who said Salinas admitted to killing the victims. In 1993, Salinas was charged with the murders, but he could not be found until 15 years later.
During the trial, the prosecution introduced the evidence of Salinas’ silence and body language in response to the question about the gun casings. Salinas objected, arguing that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. The trial court admitted the evidence and Salinas was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The question boiled down to whether or not Salinas’ body language is allowed to be presented as evidence.
I say YES!
First of all, Salinas had the ability to leave the questioning period any time he liked.
All of his answers from this questioning period were applicable to be used in court as evidence. Since he did not leave nor claim his right to not self incriminate, I believe that the answer his body language gave is also admissible in court.
There’s been plenty of dissenting chatter in the public sphere about Supreme Court’s decision to allow this piece of evidence stand. Personally, I think it’s time for these chatters of dissent to stop. Ladies and gentlemen please plead the fifth!
Now we are all very familiar with our fifth amendment rights. Just to recap a bit, the pertaining part of the 5th amendment in this case is “No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. There are other things the amendment guarantees such as our right in regards to double jeopardy, due process, and eminent domain. The important thing here to focus on is the ability to not self incriminate.
Some people will argue that to not self incriminate is a natural right.
I think they are only partially right.
If one really focused on the language of the Constitution, the key word is compelled. We are allowed the right to not be forced into incriminating ourselves but that does not stop you from doing it freely.
The Miranda rights are read to you because you are in custody, and you can’t just get up and leave. If you had incriminated yourself without explicitly knowing your rights under these conditions, the law enforcement officers are essentially forcing incriminating evidence out of you.
Under a different circumstance where you basically waltz into a police department and partake in a questioning period willingly then… anything you say or may do are going to be used against you! (sound familiar?)
There has been all types of people have used their 5th amendment rights in the past, and some of them have gotten off clean while others haven’t. People such as Don King, Colone Oliver North, Casey Anthony, and even O.J. Simpson have all claimed their right to not incriminate themselves when they were questioned, as well as they should have (and O.J. I’m talking about you especially).
Look, we have all watched enough Law and Order and CSI to know that when you are being questioned, and you get asked that one question where you might start to incriminate yourself…
What do you do?
You shut up and ask for a lawyer.
Salinas paid for his slip up during the questioning period, and he couldn’t answer because he got nervous. The police had hit the nail on the head. If he was really trying to evoke his 5th amendment right, we would definitely all be made aware of it (it’s really not that hard). He got nervous and couldn’t answer because the bullet casings did fit his shotgun. He got nervous and couldn’t answer because he did murder two innocent people in their own home. He got nervous and couldn’t answer probably because he started planning for his 15 years of hide-and-seek with law enforcement.
The take away from this Supreme Court decision?
You have the right to not self-incriminate.