A nation continues to wait for final word on the Supreme Court’s Big Four cases this term — voting rights, affirmative action, DOMA, and Proposition 8 — but the justices’ closest decision arrived first on Monday, in a 5-4 ruling on Salinas v. Texas in which the conservative members of the Court and Anthony Kennedy determined that if you remain silent before police read your Miranda rights, that silence can and will be held against you. Here’s what that means.
Basically, if you’re ever in any trouble with police (no, we don’t condone breaking laws) and want to keep your mouth shut, you will need to announce that you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right instead of, you know, just keeping your mouth shut. “Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question,” reads the opinion from Justice Samuel Alito, which Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts backed. Justices Thomas and Scalia had a concurring opinion while the remaining four Supremes dissented.
It all seems ridiculously terrifying, this idea that in order to claim your Fifth Amendment, you now need to know how to call the on-the-fly legal equivalent of “safesies.” Your right to remain silent just got more complicated, and it will require potential criminals to be more informed about their protections and the linguistic details on how to invoke them. “But does it really mean that the suspect must use the exact words ‘Fifth Amendment’? How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words are legally magic?” Breyer wrote.
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