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New Supreme Court Cases That Affect Your Constitutional Rights

The following is a Guest Post from Adam H. Rosenblum of The Rosenblum Law  Firm.

The Supreme Court of the United States has handed down two separate opinions that radically impact your constitutional rights.

The first case, Alleyne v. United States, deals with sentencing and the second case, Salinas v. Texas, affects your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

In October of 2009, Allen Ryan Alleyne and two accomplices robbed the store manager of a Mapco/East Coast convenience store in Petersburg, Virginia as he was dropping off the nightly deposit at the bank.

After an extensive investigation, the authorities arrested Mr. Alleyne and a grand jury indicted him for robbery and possessing a firearm. After a week-long trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 130 months in prison.

Not going down without a fight, Mr. Alleyne appealed. However, the appellate court rejected all of his arguments. Eventually, the case made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In an interesting twist of events, Justice Thomas broke ranks to join Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. According to their final ruling, if an element of a crime increases the mandatory minimum punishment, it must be submitted to the jury and found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. Likewise, a defendant cannot be found guilty of a crime not included in his indictment.


What does all of this mean for you?

If you are charged with a crime and your conduct could lead to your mandatory minimum prison sentence going up (e.g. brandishing a gun during a robbery), proof that you in fact did such a thing must be decided by a jury, not a judge.

If you were recently charged with a crime, this is good news for you. This brand-new precedent creates an additional check on judicial power while giving your criminal defense attorney a new route to argue for you to get the lowest possible sentence.


Fifth Amendment Right to Silence

Unfortunately, the “hand that giveth can also taketh away.” In Salinas v. Texas, a criminal defendant’s right to not incriminate himself was severely narrowed and curtailed.

Justice Alito along with Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and Kennedy held that the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause does not protect a defendant’s refusal to answer questions asked by law enforcement before he has been arrested or read his Miranda rights.

Before understanding how this affects you, it is crucial to know the basic facts of the case.

In the case, Houston police officers found two homicide victims and an investigation led officers to Genovevo Salinas. Mr. Salinas agreed to accompany the officers to the police station where he was questioned for about an hour.

Salinas was not under arrest at the time and had not been read his Miranda rights. Salinas answered every question until an officer asked whether the shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime would match the gun found in Salinas’ home. According to the officer, Mr. Salinas remained silent and demonstrated signs of deception.

A ballistics analysis later matched Mr. Salinas’ gun with the casings at the scene and a witness emerged claiming that Mr. Salinas admitted to killing the victims. Eventually he was convicted of murder. During the trial, and over an objection by his criminal defense lawyer, the prosecution was allowed to use the evidence of Mr. Salinas’s silence against him as proof of his guilt. Mr. Salinas was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $5,000. Mr. Salias appealed his case, but he lost.

Eventually, his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and they delivered a bombshell that has the potential to hurt criminal defendants everywhere.

According to the ruling, if you stay silent during an interrogation where you were not officially arrested or informed of your Miranda rights, that silence can be used against you in a later criminal proceeding unless you directly state that you are invoking your right to remain silent.

This has far reaching effects and is a wake-up call to anyone charged with a crime. From now on make sure to specifically say, in no uncertain terms, that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Do not just sit there silently!

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