A Texan man appealed his 20 year sentencing for two murders claiming that his silence was taken as proof of guilt. The Texas court had decided that Genovevo Salinas’s decision to not answer questions that may have incriminated him, along with the “nervousness, lip biting, & fidgeting,” was a valid basis for prosecution. The appeal was just brought to close at the Supreme Court earlier last week who confirmed that the defendant did not actually invoke his right to remain silent, by stating “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” The world would be a much more interesting place if everyone had to state their intention prior to using it. By the way, I’m invoking my right to free speech.
Pleading the fifth, or calling upon your right to remain silent, is really in the public eye only, meaning through mass media, TV shows, movies, etc. Only because I took a number of courses in Political Science did I actually study the rights we are afforded. That means many will not realize that they do not have to expressly state anything. Now, Mr. Salinas was not under arrest when he declined to answer, so his Miranda rights were never read prior to questioning. Even if they were, Miranda Rights states that anything you say may be used against you. Does this mean that once those rights are read, you must still request to use them? Most people know that they must request a lawyer if they so choose, but even that is given as a choice at the end of reading the rights. How far does asking permission to use a right extend? If you aren’t well versed, or have never been through the system’s process before, would you know what to do, what to say or not say? Working with a large variety of different populations, I worry for many who are already disenfranchised by the system and it comes as no surprise that even silence can be used as an affirmation of guilt.
This has nothing to do with Mr. Salinas’s charges, as I have no idea whether he his guilty or not. This ruling on the meaning of silence seems like a dangerous loophole. Can a spouse now give condemning evidence against their spouse if they do not ask not to? What else can sneak through the cracks if we don’t explicitly state otherwise? Maybe we can even opt out of surveillance by the NSA if we knew just what to say.