U.S. Supreme Court Carves Out Exception to Fifth Amendment Protections

Explore:  Fifth Amendment SCOTUS

In the groundbreaking case of Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people in custody must be apprised of their right to remain silent, which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Since the right against self-incrimination inherent in the Fifth Amendment is so crucial, the court reasoned that the only way to effectively protect individuals being held against their will is to clearly explain their rights.

In Salinas v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to invoke the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, a person being questioned by law enforcement must do so explicitly. Here are the main points to take away from this case:

  • The defendant was not considered to be in custody at the time of questioning, because he had voluntarily gone with police to answer questions about two murders.
  • Since he was not in custody or under arrest, police were not required to issue Miranda warnings.
  • Prosecutors at trial used the defendant’s silence, after initially volunteering answers to questions, to demonstrate his guilt. The question that precipitated the silence was one regarding whether the shell casings found at the scene would match the defendant’s gun.
    • Salinas could not complain about the use of his silence against him, since he did not invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that because suspects may not be familiar with the law, their silence should be understood as an invocation of their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. It has been long understood that the Fifth Amendment must be invoked to take effect. Here, the court extends that requirement to voluntary encounters with police when people have not been warned about their rights. The dissenting judges in Salinas prefer a case-by-case determination of whether people attempt to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights.