The Right to Remain Silent?

A few weeks ago I came across an article about a case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear regarding an individual’s right to remain silent before an arrest is made. I found this case surprising because ever since high school when I studiously learned my Miranda rights protections, I assumed I could always refuse to answer police officers’ questions until I had a lawyer present.

As I read more, however, I learned this is not always the case. For example, in state supreme courts—including Texas, Missouri, Maryland, North Dakota, and Minnesota—silence has been allowed to be used as evidence of guilt. However, Idaho, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin have ruled against using silence as evidence, and the federal district courts are similarly split. 

I admit in this particular case it seems suspicious the defendant answered all questions except whether his gun would match the crime scene and then proceeded to “shuffle his feet [and bite] his lower lip.” Nevertheless, it does not make sense to me why silence before arrest should be used as evidence of guilt when the exact same behavior performed seconds after arrest could not be used in court.

Such a decision could also have potentially negative consequences. If the Court decides people do not have the right to remain silent before arrest, why would the police rush to arrest a suspect? There would certainly be an incentive for them to interrogate the individuals while they cannot refuse to answer and then, only after obtaining either a confession or silence that can be construed as guilt-induced, make the arrest. In such a situation, Miranda rights become much less effective since they do not apply to the entire course of the investigation.

I did not post anything related to this case immediately because I assumed the general public would be just as concerned about this issue as I am and it would easily get its due attention. Instead, I have seen relatively few articles and mentions about it thus far. Obviously, it is a bit early since the case has not yet been decided, but it is certainly one I will be watching closely throughout the spring.

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