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Silence may now be used against you in court, according to SCOTUS

Thanks to TV and movies, everyone in Michigan probably knows the Miranda warning that police officers must read to someone while arresting them. The Miranda warning includes several rights that each of us enjoys under the Bill of Rights and ensures that we are aware of those rights.

Among the rights included in the Miranda warning is the "right to remain silent." That refers to the Fifth Amendment's right against involuntary self-incrimination. Basically, an arrested person does not have to answer questions during a police interrogation if he or she does not want to. Silence is also protected by a prohibition against using a defendant's refusal to talk against him or her at trial.

Though the right to remain silent has long been considered a fundamental criminal defense right, the U.S. Supreme Court recently chipped away at that right, at least prior to official arrest. The Court ruled 5-4 recently that a suspect does not have an active right against self-incrimination until he or she is arrested or verbally invokes that right.

Police detained the defendant in the case in connection with a murder case. They had not arrested him or read him his Miranda rights but the man was under questioning and arguably in police custody. The officers claimed that the suspect voluntarily answered some of their questions but did not answer whether a shotgun he had access to would be the same type as the murder weapon.

Prosecutors told the jury about that silence and it likely contributed to the defendant's conviction. On appeal, the defendant argued that his Fifth Amendment rights had been violated.

The case eventually reached the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that, rather than being an inherent right at any time, the right against self-incrimination must be activated by an overt "claim" prior to arrest. Since the defendant did not do so, he gave up his right, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

This decision could have a major impact on police procedures in Michigan and around the country. It could make it more important than ever to be aware of your rights when in police custody.

Source: Associated Press, "Supreme Court Rules That Pre-Miranda Silence Can Be Used In Court," Jesse J. Holland, June 17, 2013

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