Salinas v. Texas , 133 S.Ct. 2174 (2013).
In December of 1992 two brothers were found dead in their
Houston home. Police, upon investigation, suspected foul play after discovering
a series of shotgun shell casings scattered on the floor of the scene. This
investigation led them to Geneavo Salinas, who voluntarily came in to answer a
few questions. Due to the nature of the discussion; Salinas was never told his
Miranda Rights, thus leading him to believe that he was not a suspect. The
questioning took approximately one hour and after answering questions in a
cooperative manner, fell silent when asked about the murder weapon. His
demeanor change and uncomfortable gestures caught the attention of the
investigator. Further research proved that the shotgun in Mr. Salinas’
possession was a match for the shotgun shell casings found in the scene of the
crime and murder charges were filed in March 1993.
Can the defendants’ usage of silence as a response be considered a confession
Yes. Because the defendant did not clearly state that he was exercising his
fifth amendment right to silence, his lack of responses was interpreted to be
The invocation of the fifth amendment right is reserved for those who are
looking to avoid answering a potentially incriminating question and from what
was gathered at the hearing, Salinas was never in a position where he had to
answer such a question. Although he was being questioned at the police station,
the nature of the conversation did not suggest he would be placed in detention
– thus legally allowing for the prosecutor to freely ask questions.
The concept of
questioning a potential suspect without reading them their rights became hotly
debated and caught the attention of many of the Supreme Court justices.
Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan did not agree with the
ruling and stated that “no ritualistic formula is necessary to invoke the
privilege”(Santos,2013), thus challenging the correctness of the holding. Their
dissent was noted, but the ruling stood as initially recorded.
In addressing the
outcome of a rather landmark case, it appears the court had been split in the
decision making. Regarding the legality of the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas
argued that even if the defendant had vocalized his desire to invoke the fifth
amendment protection, the courts would have denied it. The reason for this
being that the testimony given by the prosecutor did not, in any capacity,
force Salinas to omit a self-incriminating testimony (Salinas v. Texas, n.d.).
Of the justices who expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the
case, Justice Breyers response best summed up the difficult decision Salinas
had to make. His interpretation was that Mr. Salinas must ultimately choose “between
incrimination through speech and incrimination through silence” (Liptak,2013).
Although I do believe that the courts made the
correct decision in indicting Mr. Salinas for the deaths of the Garza brothers,
I feel as though there is a discrepancy between what people expect to encounter
when in an interrogatory situation and what occurred in this case. Miranda
rights are delivered prior to questioning and so it would make sense that Mr.
Salinas would not have expected his responses to be used against him. This is
not to say that he should have approached the informal questioning with no
regard for potential consequences, but a proper disclaimer could have
established the nature and intentions of the questioning.
In 2010 a case like that of Salinas v. Texas
appeared on the docket. In the case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, a Michigan court
charged Van Chester Thompkins of a multitude of crimes including- but not
limited to- first degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, and a
variety of charges surrounding the unlawful usage of firearms. As a final
attempt, Thompkins insinuated that the confession he made was collected in a
manner that was inconsistent with his fifth amendment right. The holding
mirrored that of Salinas’ and Thompkins’ argument was deemed illegitimate and
the ruling was affirmed (Berghuis v. Thompkins, n.d)
From what I have seen, this case and those that
followed have caused a monumental shift in the way that law enforcement
agencies and citizens alike handle questionings. Compared to before the 1992
case, law enforcement agencies are now able to narrow in on suspicious
activities as minor as a pause in response. Unfortunately, this change has
caused a subsequent shift in the amount of trust that civilians when in the
presence of police officers. In a 2015 nationwide poll, people were asked
whether or not law enforcement agents “routinely lie to serve their own
interests” and the statistics speak volumes. According to the results, 31%
of Americans believe they do. Specifically: 45% of African Americans, 41% of
young people, and 39% of Democrats share in this belief (Schneider,2015).
If I were an attorney, my advice to a client who
is facing police questioning would be to treat it as if every word you say will
be used against you. By keeping this in the back of their minds, the client
will be hyper-aware of their responses and present themselves in a manner that
is calm and composed- regardless of what is asked. In my mind; the most
important part of this case in particular was the noting of an obvious shift in
demeanor and for this reason, It is imperative that the client understands the
power of body language.
Berghuis v. Thompkins,
Salinas v. Texas, Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2012/12-246
Adam Liptak, A 5-4
Ruling, One of Three, Limits Silence’s Protection The New York Times (2013),http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/us/supreme-court-hands-down-three-decisions-that-are-5-to-4.html
Lisa Schmidt, Salinas v.
Texas LII / Legal Information Institute (2013), https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-246
Bill Schneider, Do
Americans trust their cops to be fair and just? New poll contains surprises.
Santos, B. M.
(2013, March 25). Guilt by Silence: Anything You Say (or Don’t Say) Can and
Will be Used Against You. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from