Genovevo Salinas: Supreme Court Weighs Fifth Amendment Rights in Houston Murder Case

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Prisoner Genovevo Salinas's silence during an early interrogation for a double-murder at a Houston apartment complex back in 1992 will be the subject of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Salinas is serving out a 20-year sentence for the shooting deaths of brothers Juan and Hector Garza after a night of partying at the Garzas' apartment complex.

Salinas drove a car similar to one seen at the crime, and bullet casings matched a rifle provided to Houston police by Salinas's father. The point in question was a moment of silence during Salinas's initial interrogation, which a Houston Police Department sergeant equated with an admission of guilt.

On the stand at the murder trial, which didn't happen until 2007, Sgt. C.E. Elliott said Salinas answered all questions until one about whether he thought the shell casings found at the apartment would match the gun. At that point, almost an hour into the interview, Salinas "looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, clinched his hands in his lap, began to tighten up."

Elliott considered the behavior to be suspicious, a reason to take Salinas into custody at the time. Elliott described Salinas's behavior as deceptive and lying.

The Supreme Court's interest in the case centers on the Fifth Amendment. Was Salinas's silence protected under the Fifth Amendment, which protects someone from self-incrimination? And did those rights apply even before Miranda rights were read to him? The Court will weigh the arguments.

Opponents say that the ability to build a case on pre-arrest silence would give police a perverse incentive to wait to provide Miranda warnings. They argue that silence could have any number of interpretations. The United States, on the other hand, argues that Salinas would have to invoke the Fifth Amendment to be protected by it. The silence was evidence of Salinas's state of mind and not an intention to protect himself through the use of the Fifth Amendment.

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