Most people are aware that the Constitution gives criminal suspects the right to remain silent or to refuse to speak to the police. When a suspect tells the police “I’m not saying anything” or “I’m finished talking,” he’s invoking his constitutional rights. What you may not immediately realize, however, is that the protections related to this right don’t end at the police station. It also can play a role in your criminal trial, as well. This right limits what you have to say, and also restricts what the prosecution can say about your silence. Whether you’re facing questions from a police detective or are standing trial, one of the best ways to protect yourself and your rights is to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer by your side.
Your constitutional rights give you the prerogative to refuse to talk to the police or to talk for a while and then refuse to say anything more. They also allow you to refuse to testify at your trial. What’s more, though, these rights also prohibit the prosecutor from implying or flat-out telling the jury that your utilizing your right of silence is a sign of your guilt.
That right took center stage in a recent appeal of a Baltimore man’s murder conviction. The defendant, M.A., was on trial for the brutal murder of his longtime girlfriend. The suspect told Baltimore Homicide detectives that he had been out walking his dog and had returned to find the woman covered in blood. Once the police continued pressing M.A., he stated that he wasn’t “going to answer no more questions. I told you what happened, and I’m going to shut my mouth.”
At the murder trial, M.A. did not testify in his defense. During closing arguments, the prosecution made references to M.A.’s invoking his right to remain silent during the police interview. Specifically, the prosecutor told the jury that “when [the defendant] is confronted with more evidence that he didn’t realize he left behind, he shuts down, he’s done talking. All of this, ladies and gentlemen, I would suggest to you points to signs of guilt.”
The prosecutor’s comment about M.A.’s invocation of his rights — specifically, that the man’s termination of police questioning “points to signs of guilt” — was, by itself, enough to get the murder conviction tossed.
Evidence of Your ‘Post-Arrest Silence’ is Basically Never Admissible
The law is extremely clear that any evidence of an accused person’s “post-arrest silence” is inadmissible and the state cannot use it against the defendant “for any purpose.” In M.A.’s case, the state tried to get around this very straightforward legal standard by arguing that, because the defendant spoke to the police for a time before invoking his rights, M.A.’s case was different and that entitled to prosecution to use the answers he gave in the interview against him.
Had that been what the prosecution did, the conviction possibly would have held up. Had the prosecutor simply said “the defendant told the police [this], but the other evidence tells us that’s not true, and I suggest that points to guilt,” then that hypothetical closing might have been OK. A statement that focuses on what was said prior to the invocation is permissible. However, when a prosecutor says that a defendant’s cessation of answering police questions (“He says, ‘I’m done talking'”) is something that “points to signs of guilt,” that is unmistakably an attempt to tie the invocation of the right to guilt and is clearly improper.
Police and prosecutors have many tools and techniques to secure arrests and convictions in criminal cases. Most of those are legal but, sometimes, they step over the line and infringe upon your rights. Whether you’re merely under suspicion or you’re on trial, you need a seasoned pro who knows how to stand up for your rights and provide you with the best defense possible. Rely on the skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide that kind of advocacy for you. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form so that we can get started working for you.