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Court narrows right to remain silent

June 17, 2013 at 11:49 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday in a Texas murder case to narrow a suspect's right to remain silent.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, with the rest of the court splitting along its four conservatives, four liberals ideological fault line.

In December 1992, brothers Juan and Hector Garza were shot and killed in Hector's Houston apartment. Police found no forced entry but did find spent shotgun shells. A neighbor heard the shots and described the getaway car as a dark colored Camaro or Trans Am.

Police discovered Genovivo Salinas might have attended a party in the apartment the night before the early morning killings.

Police went to Salinas' home where he lived with his parents and discovered that his mother mother had a dark blue Camaro or Trans Am. Police also found a shotgun and asked Salinas to accompany them to the police station for questioning and fingerprints, without placing Salinas in custody or reading him his rights.

Salinas voluntarily answered some questions, but went silent when asked whether ballistics would match the shell cases found at the crime scene.

At Salianas' murder trial, prosecutors used his silence under questioning as evidence of guilt. He was convicted and appeals courts rejected his claim that the prosecutors use of his silence violated the Fifth Amendment -- which gives a defendant the right not to incriminate himself.

The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts.

Salinas' "Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer's question," Alito wrote for the narrow majority. "It has long been settled that the privilege 'generally is not self-executing' and that a witness who desires its protection 'must claim it.'"

Speaking for the dissenters, Justice Stephen Breyer said: "In my view the Fifth Amendment here prohibits the prosecution from commenting on the petitioner's silence in response to police questioning. ... The Fifth Amendment prohibits prosecutors from commenting on an individual's silence where that silence amounts to an effort to avoid becoming 'a witness against himself.'"

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