Salinas v. Texas, No. 12-246, __ U.S.__ (June 17, 2013).

ALITO, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, J., joined:

Without being placed in custody or receiving Miranda warnings, petitioner voluntarily answered the questions of a police officer who was investigating a murder. But petitioner balked when the officer asked whether a ballistics test would show that the shell casings found at the crime scene would match petitioner’s shotgun. Petitioner was subsequently charged with murder, and at trial prosecutors argued that his reaction to the officer’s question suggested that he was guilty. Petitioner claims that this argument violated the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question. It has long been settled that the privilege “generally is not self-executing” and that a witness who desires its protection “‘must claim it.’” Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U. S. 420, 425, 427 (1984) (quoting United States v. Monia, 317 U. S. 424, 427 (1943)). Although “no ritualistic formula is necessary in order to invoke the privilege,” Quinn v. United States, 349 U. S. 155, 164 (1955), a witness does not do so by simply standing mute. Because petitioner was required to assert the privilege in order to benefit from it, the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejecting petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim is affirmed.

. . . .

We granted certiorari, 568 U. S. ___ (2013), to resolve a division of authority in the lower courts over whether the prosecution may use a defendant’s assertion of the privilege against self-incrimination during a noncustodial police interview as part of its case in chief. Compare, e.g., United States v. Rivera, 944 F. 2d 1563, 1568 (CA11 1991), with United States v. Moore, 104 F. 3d 377, 386 (CADC 1997). But because petitioner did not invoke the privilege during his interview, we find it unnecessary to reach that question.

. . . .

We also reject petitioner’s argument that an express invocation requirement will encourage police officers to “‘unfairly “tric[k]”’” suspects into cooperating. Reply Brief21 (quoting South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U. S. 553, 566 (1983)). Petitioner worries that officers could unduly pressure suspects into talking by telling them that their silence could be used in a future prosecution. But as petitioner himself concedes, police officers “have done nothing wrong” when they “accurately stat[e] the law.” Brief for Petitioner 32. We found no constitutional infirmity in government officials telling the defendant in Mur­phy that he was required to speak truthfully to his parole officer, 465 U. S., at 436–438, and we see no greater danger in the interview tactics petitioner identifies. So long as police do not deprive a witness of the ability to voluntarily invoke the privilege, there is no Fifth Amendment violation.

JUSTICE THOMAS, with whom JUSTICE SCALIA joins, concurring in the judgment:

We granted certiorari to decide whether the Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination prohibits a prosecutor from using a defendant’s precustodial silence as evidence of his guilt. The plurality avoids reaching that question and instead concludes that Salinas’ Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege. Ante, at 3. I think there is a simpler way to resolve this case. In my view, Salinas’ claim would fail even if he had invoked the privilege because the prosecutor’s comments regarding his precustodial silence did not compel him to give self-incriminating testimony.

In Griffin v. California, 380 U. S. 609 (1965), this Court held that the Fifth Amendment prohibits a prosecutor or judge from commenting on a defendant’s failure to testify. Id., at 614. The Court reasoned that such comments, and any adverse inferences drawn from them, are a “penalty” imposed on the defendant’s exercise of his Fifth Amendment privilege. Ibid. Salinas argues that we should extend Griffin’s no-adverse-inference rule to a defendant’s silence during a precustodial interview. I have previously explained that the Court’s decision in Griffin “lacks foundation in the Constitution’s text, history, or logic” and should not be extended. See Mitchell v. United States, 526 U. S. 314, 341 (1999) (dissenting opinion). I adhere to that view today.


The plurality says that a suspect must “expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination.” Ante, at 1. 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? Nor does the Solicitor General help when he adds that the suspect may “mak[e] the claim ‘in any language that [the questioner] may reasonably be expected to understand as an attempt to invoke the privilege.’” . . . What counts as “making the claim”? Suppose the individual says, “Let’s discuss something else,” or “I’m not sure I want to answer that”; or suppose he just gets up and leaves the room. Cf. Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U. S. 721, 727, n. 6 (1969) (affirming “the settled principle that while the police have the right to request citizens to answer voluntarily questions concerning unsolved crimes[,] they have no right to compel them to answer”); Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U. S. 420, 439 (1984) (noting that even someone detained in a Terry stop“is not obliged to respond” to police questions); Florida v. Royer, 460 U. S. 491, 497–498 (1983) (plurality opinion). How is simple silence in the present context any different?

. . . .

Far better, in my view, to pose the relevant question directly: Can one fairly infer from an individual’s silence and surrounding circumstances an exercise of the Fifth Amendment’s privilege? The need for simplicity, the constitutional importance of applying the Fifth Amendment to those who seek its protection, and this Court’s case law all suggest that this is the right question to ask here. And the answer to that question in the circumstances of today’s case is clearly: yes.

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