Your Right to Remain Silent Means You’re Guiltier Than Ever

Last year, the United States Supreme Court made a terrible decision. Okay, the Supreme Court made a lot of terrible decisions. One of the worst, though, was Salinas v. Texas which undermined a citizen’s “right to remain silent” by declaring that when an un-arrested person does not respond to a police officer’s question, that non-response is a legally admissible indication of guilt. Care2 wrote about this madness in “Your Right to Remain Silent Means You’re Guilty.”

If that sounds bad, it’s just gotten even more terrible. Now the California Supreme Court has looked at a similar case, People v. Tom, cited the previous U.S. Supreme Court case as precedent, and demolished citizens’ right to remain silent even further. In addition to free suspects, even people who have been arrested and have every reason to believe they can exercise their right to silence can now have their subsequent silence used against them in court.

Talk about mind-boggling. It seems like if the police want to incriminate you, they can just never Mirandize you and then consider your silence damning evidence.

People v. Tom, the California case in question, involved Richard Tom, a man who the justice system ultimately deemed guilty of speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol when he committed vehicular manslaughter. Later in court, the police testified that they gauged Tom’s guilt in part due to him never asking if the victims in the other car were okay after he was put under arrest.

My outrage over the verdict in People v. Tom is not a defense of Tom. Plenty of evidence exists to suggest Tom is guilty, all of which is stronger than Tom’s silence. At the point of being arrested and placed in the back of a police car, Tom probably thought he was supposed to clam up rather than chat with officers about the situation. There are a lot of reasons Tom may have chosen to say nothing about the people in the other car, particularly when unprompted to do so.

The problem is that whether Tom is guilty or not, using his silence as an indication of guilt sets a scary precedent throughout the legal system. Future innocent people who are arrested and stay quiet because they believe it is both their right and the right thing to do could be convicted using this because, thanks to some secret loophole, not saying anything actually implies that you are guilty, apparently.

It’s a viewpoint that the leftwing minority in the state Supreme Court agrees with. Justice Goodwin Liu wrote in his dissent, “To whom and how should he have invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege? Was he required to approach an officer on his own initiative and blurt out, ‘I don’t want to talk’? Would it have been enough for Tom to say just that, without mentioning the Fifth Amendment or otherwise indicating he didn’t want to incriminate himself?” He also worried that this decision would motivate police to intentionally delay Miranda rights to use either a suspect’s words or silence against them later.

Tom’s own attorney, Marc Zilversmit, concurred as well. “It’s a very dangerous ruling,” he said. “If you say anything to the police, that can be used against you. Now, if you don’t say anything before you are warned of your rights, that too can be used against you.”

It seems brazenly unfair if not outright deceitful to invent some kind of technicality to counteract the right to remain silent. When only legal experts have a firm understanding of when and when not to speak, it stops being a protection altogether.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Rose Roma
Rose R3 years ago

Camus believed silence is the bass line to life's music and a very important form of communication. Goffman wrote of tone, nuance and rhythm.

john pierce
John Pierce3 years ago

Sometime the comments are more insightful than the article. Thanks all.

john james Parr
john Parr3 years ago

A Lawyers advice to me.... remain silent ...remain silent.... remain silent... and that was good advice... in the USA Police state

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore3 years ago

What The F**K?!

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants3 years ago

very sad

Rosa Caldwell
Rosa Caldwell3 years ago

My feelings exactly

Patricia Welch
Patricia W3 years ago


john hall
john hall3 years ago

Why don't you read the damn case file and maybe you'll understand the ruling...which your liberal justices agreed with...the damn fool answered some questions and was silent on others...he should have waited to be Mirandanize and speak to a lawyer which he didn't do.....go and read the ruling and mabe you'll learn something and why they voted this way.

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

Always use the right to remain silent. Don't offer any information as the law can twist your words and use them against you. Only answer questions with a yes or no answer. Don't offer any other information.
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