Can Defendant's Silence Be Used as Evidence of His Guilt ?
In Doyle v. Ohio (1976) 426 U.S. 610, the defendant was arrested and advised of his right to remain silent as required by Miranda v. Arizona (1976) 384 U.S. 436.
The defendant did not make a statement to the police but testified at trial he was not guilty of the crime and was being framed by a police informant.
The prosecution cross-examined the defendant, focusing, in part, on why he did not tell the police he was being framed when he was arrested.
The Supreme Court reversed the conviction.
"Despite the importance of cross-examination, we have concluded that the Miranda decision compels rejection of the State's position. The warnings mandated by that case, as a prophylactic means of safeguarding Fifth Amendment rights, , require that a person taken into custody be advised immediately that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says may be used against him, and that he has a right to retained or appointed counsel before submitting to interrogation. Silence in the wake of these warnings may be nothing more than the arrestee's exercise of these Miranda rights. Thus, every post-arrest silence is insolubly ambiguous because of what the State is required to advise the person arrested. Moreover, while it is true that the Miranda warnings contain no express assurance that silence will carry no penalty, such assurance is implicit to any person who receives the warnings. In such circumstances, it would be fundamentally unfair and a deprivation of due process to allow the arrested person's silence to be used to impeach an explanation subsequently offered at trial." (Doyle, supra, 426 U.S. at pp. 617-618.)
The prosecutor in Griffin v. California (1965) 380 U.S. 609 argued, and the trial court instructed the jury, that the defendant's silence could be used as evidence of his guilt.
The Supreme Court held these actions violated the defendant's Fifth Amendment rights because to permit such comments "is a penalty imposed by courts for exercising a constitutional privilege. It cuts down on the privilege by making its assertion costly. It is said, however, that the inference of guilt for failure to testify as to facts peculiarly within the accused's knowledge is in any event natural and irresistible, and that comment on the failure does not magnify that inference into a penalty for asserting a constitutional privilege. What the jury may infer, given no help from the court, is one thing. What it may infer when the court solemnizes the silence of the accused into evidence against him is quite another." (Griffin, supra, 380 U.S. at p. 614.)