Remaining silent prior to arrest can, in some circumstances, be used against
you in court, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled. As Adam Liptak
reports for the New York Times, the Court ruled (in a 5-4 split) in favor
of allowing a prosecutor to comment on a suspect’s silence when
it came to a certain question raised by the cops.
The question involved a shotgun, and whether or not the suspect believed
his shotgun would match up to shells found at the crime scene. Two people
had been shot and killed, and later on, the suspect would be charged with
murder and ultimately convicted.
Because the suspect allowed himself to be questioned by the police for
roughly an hour, did not invoke his right to silence, and yet refused
to answer that one question about his shotgun, the Court said that his
remaining silent on that one question could be used against him.
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented: “[Allowing] a prosecutor to comment
on a defendant’s constitutionally protected silence would put that
defendant in an impossible predicament.” In other words, at the
time he answered questions while a suspect but before arrest, the defendant
had a choice between incriminating himself by answering questions and
incriminating himself by refusing to answer questions.