Yetley: Know your rights

Claire Yetley

On June 17, the Supreme Court made a decision on the court case Salinas v. Texas. It addressed problems that arose when Genoveo Salinas turned himself in at a police station to answer questions. Because it was understood that he was there voluntarily, Salinas was not read his Miranda rights.

During questioning, an officer asked Salinas if a ballistic test done on the shells found at the scene of the crime would match his shotgun and Salinas fell silent for two hours and 45 minutes. The prosecutor used his silence as evidence of guilt and Salinas was convicted of murder. Salinas rejects the prosecutor could use his silence as evidence.

Most Americans have seen or heard the Miranda rights being read either on TV, in a movie or in person and understand the meaning of “the right to remain silent.” However, there’s been some dispute about when the Fifth Amendment actually applies. This Supreme Court’s decision made it clear the person in question needs to state that he or she is remaining silent in order to avoid saying anything self-incriminating. If their silence is declared “insolubly ambiguous” (Doyle v. Ohio), then the silence could be misunderstood for any number of reasons.

It is unrealistically optimistic to believe the general public is educated enough to know each right they have under the Constitution. It’s unfortunate, but people spend too much time watching TV and movies instead of brushing up on the Bill of Rights. All Iowa State students should know what their rights are, especially if they are the type of student who reads any news publications.

Then, I read over more of Justice Alito’s opinion: “But the Fifth Amendment guarantees that no one may be ‘compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,’ not an unqualified ‘right to remain silent,’” Murphy, 465 U. S., at 427–428. Pp. 6−10.

In other words, the person in question doesn’t have to know that they are saying or doing something self-incriminating for it to be incriminating. And in this instance Salinas’ interview would have been considered unqualified.

Another way to explain the famous line, “you have the right to remain silent,” would be that a person has the right to remain silent if they are under arrest and are afraid that what they will say could be incriminating.

It makes sense in the situation where someone under arrest could say that they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. In our legal system, it doesn’t matter what this person knew or didn’t know, all that matters is that they did or didn’t do the act which was against the law. Unless the issue is intent, but that’s a different story.

An easy example to demonstrate this could be a person is pulled over for weaving across the road and possibly driving recklessly. If the officer asks this person how much they’ve had to drink tonight and they say something along the lines of, “Nothing, I’ve just been smoking pot,” that’s still incriminating even if the person thought it was legal.

In this case, because Salinas was willing to cooperate with the officers, at some point during the two hours and 45 minutes they should have told him that his silence will be used against him. Of course then he could possibly lie, but it would have at least given him a chance to explain he was trying not to incriminate himself.

The best way to not get in trouble is to know the law, and follow it. Salinas unfortunately didn’t know this part of the law, so there was no way he could even know what’s going on. Salinas’ misunderstanding of the law is the part I disagree with. During any Miranda rights reading it is the officer’s job to make sure the person in question understands. Those same rights should be understood even if the person is not under arrest.

However, I don’t believe it is the officer’s job to make sure that every citizen understands their rights. There is a certain amount of personal responsibility that each individual needs to take. In a perfect world I think everyone would just want to be educated on their rights as citizens.

Unfortunately, that’s not our reality.