#Ferguson: Darren Wilson’s prearrest silence may be admissible
Saturday, August 23, 2014
BettyKath asked the following question in the comments to yesterday’s post, Grand Jury should indict Darren Wilson because his claim of self-defense is contradicted by autopsy results and all eyewitnesses.
Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that maintaining silence before the Miranda warning, i.e. before being arrested, can be interpreted as a sign of guilt?
This is an excellent question regarding the admissibility of prearrest silence and my answer is the subject of today’s blog.
Yes, prearrest silence can be interpreted as evidence of guilt unless the suspect/defendant specifically invokes his fifth amendment right to remain silent. In Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980), the defendant did not report the killing to the police until he turned himself in to police two weeks later. He told them that he stabbed the victim to death in self-defense. At trial, the prosecutor cross examined him regarding his failure to report the killing and to claim self-defense when it happened. He also commented on his silence in closing argument claiming that it was evidence of guilt.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) affirmed his conviction rejecting his argument that the comments on his prearrest silence violated his fifth amendment right to remain silent. The Court held that his silence was admissible because a defendant must expressly claim his right to remain silent for it to apply.
See also Salinas v. Texas, 133 S. Ct. 2174 (2013).
Pursuant to Jenkins and Salinas, Wilson’s failure to fill out the incident report (i.e., his silence) will be admissible against him at trial unless he expressly refused to do so citing his fifth amendment right to remain silent.
Apparently, he did not do that because the cover sheet is filled out, but the section where his narrative report should be is blank.
If he orally invoked his right to remain silent when he turned in his blank incident report, his prearrest silence will not be admissible.
In any event, the prosecutor doesn’t have to comment on Wilson’s silence to get an indictment because, as I stated yesterday, he can obtain it by merely calling the eyewitnesses and presenting the autopsy report.
Although Wilson’s prearrest silence will not be admissible at trial, assuming he expressly invoked his right to remain silent, we also have to consider whether his oral statements to others that he shot in self-defense will be admissible.
No, they are not admissible because they constitute inadmissible self-serving hearsay.
That leaves Darren Wilson between a rock and a hard place.
He must testify in order to get his ‘bum-rush’ defense into evidence and a self-defense instruction. However, if he testifies, none of the eyewitnesses saw a ‘bum rush’ and if he tells a different story, he can be confronted with his ‘bum rush’ story.
Not an enviable situation to be in even with $225,000 in donations for his defense.
Picture from Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons