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Salinas v. Texas ruling will have major implications for criminal prosecutions.

Salinas v. Texas Supreme Court Ruling will have major implications.

Salinas v. Texas Supreme Court Ruling will have major implications.

By David Rudoi esq.

If you wish to utilize your constitutional right to remain silent, you better speak up.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court held that remaining silent does not guarantee American citizens from self-incrimination. Although it has avoided the media’s spotlight, the decision will play a significant role in future criminal prosecutions.

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The ruling dropped on June 17 in Salinas v. Texas, which involved the nature of a police questioning in a 20-year-old murder investigation which eventually led to the conviction of a Houston man.

Genovevo Salinas was subject to police questioning in January, 1993, regarding the murder of two brothers. At the scene, police discovered shotgun shell casings where Salinas was neither arrested nor read his Miranda rights — he agreed to allow the police to inspect his shotgun. The police asked if the shells would match his shotgun, but Salinas did not answer the question, and remained silent.

Salinas was later arrested on an unrelated traffic warrant, when police decided there was sufficient evidence to charge him with the previous murders. Salinas did not testify, but his response to police questioning — the fidgeting, lip-biting, etc. — was provided as evidence against him. Salinas’ silence was used against him; he believed his Fifth Amendment rights had been violated.

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Salinas was convicted and sentence to 20 years in prison. He protested to the Court of Appeals of Texas in direct appeal that the prosecutor had unconstitutionally used his silence as evidence in the case against him, but the court rejected that argument. After reaching the United States Supreme Court, a 5-4 decision was made ruling that Salina’s self-incrimination privilege had not been violated, because he failed to say, “I’m invoking my right to remain silent.” Even despite the reality that Salinas wasn’t under arrest when he was questioned, and wasn’t read his Miranda rights as a result.

From the plurality opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito:

“Petitioner [Salinas] cannot benefit from that principle because it is undisputed that his interview with police was voluntary. As petitioner himself acknowledges, he agreed to accompany the officers to the station and ‘was free to leave at any time during the interview.’ Brief for Petitioner 2 – 3 (internal quotation marks omitted). That places petitioner’s situation outside the scope of Miranda and other cases in which we have held that various forms of governmental coercion prevented defendants from voluntarily invoking the privilege.”

Previously, the Supreme Court held that silence on its own is not enough for a suspect to invoke his or her Fifth Amendment rights. The difference here is that Salinas was not a suspect at the time he went silent; he was simply a witness brought in for questioning.

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Alito was joined in his opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts. While the ruling has been overshadowed by this week’s Supreme Court’s decisions on affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8, it’s received its share of criticism in both journalistic and legal circles.

Read the full syllabus for Salinas v Texas here.

Located in Royal Oak, Michigan, Rudoi Law serves clients in Auburn Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, Ferndale, Pontiac, Rochester, Troy, and West Bloomfield, as well as all other residents of Oakland County, Macomb County and elsewhere in the great State of Michigan.