PA Supreme Court docket: Prosecutor’s Reference to Defendant’s Submit-Arrest Silence Requires New Trial

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket has determined the case of Commonwealth v. Rivera, holding that even a quick point out of a defendant’s post-arrest silence by the prosecution will virtually at all times require a brand new trial. Each the state and federal constitutions give a person the suitable to stay silent and never communicate with the police. This case acknowledges that such a proper can be meaningless if the federal government may then argue at trial that the defendant is responsible as a result of they refused to make an announcement. You will need to observe, nonetheless, that courts are more likely to reverse a conviction the place the federal government tries to benefit from post-arrest silence than silence that occurred previous to an arrest or the giving of Miranda warnings.

The Information of Rivera

In Rivera, the defendant was accused of sexually abusing various minors. The Pennsylvania State Police investigated the case, they usually ultimately filed rape fees towards him. The police went to his home to arrest him, suggested him of the costs, and browse him his Miranda warnings. They then formally positioned him below arrest. The defendant didn’t say something at the moment; he didn’t incriminate himself, and he additionally didn’t deny the allegations. As an alternative, he remained silent. He had an absolute proper to take action below the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions.

The defendant proceeded by the use of jury trial. At trial, his protection lawyer challenged the credibility of the witnesses. The protection centered round arguing that the complainants weren’t telling the reality and that they’d made up the allegations. Through the cross-examination, the protection lawyer requested the investigating state trooper various questions concerning the investigation with the intention to present that the trooper had not finished a lot of an precise investigation. A type of questions was whether or not the trooper had spoken with the defendant, and the trooper mentioned that he had tried to however was unsuccessful. On re-direct, the prosecutor requested the trooper concerning the Miranda warnings. Particularly, the next change occurred:

Q. [Commonwealth Attorney]: I’d prefer to direct your consideration to June 26, 2018, at about 1400 hours, did you . . . go to the house of [Rivera]?

A. [Trooper Higdon]: Sure.

Q. And was he arrested based mostly on the arrest warrant?

A. I had an arrest warrant in hand, right.

Q. At roughly 1430 hours, did you learn [Rivera] his Miranda [w]arnings?

A. Sure.

Q. So what, what are the Miranda [w]arnings?

A. Miranda [w]arnings are, I’ll say in simple phrases of their proper to stay silent.

Q. Okay. After you learn him his Miranda warnings, he by no means advised you that he didn’t do something to any of those youngsters?

A. No.

Q. He by no means denied doing something to –

Protection Counsel: Objection to that. An individual doesn’t should deny.

The Court docket: You’re right, I believe he’s simply asking if he did. You could reply.

A. He didn’t deny.

Q. He by no means mentioned[,] I didn’t do that?

A. No.

Q. What did he say?

A. Nothing, he mentioned he wished to not speak.

Q. No extra questions.

As is mirrored within the change, the protection lawyer objected to this line of questioning, however the trial courtroom overruled the objection. The trial courtroom didn’t present a cautionary instruction to the jury. The jury convicted on lots of the fees, and the defendant appealed.

The Superior Court docket affirmed. It held that the prosecutor mustn’t have requested the questions concerning the defendant’s response to receiving his Miranda warnings, however it discovered that the error amounted to innocent error. It additionally discovered that the prosecutor’s questioning was a good response to the protection’s opening the door on the problem by asking if the trooper had spoken with the defendant. The defendant petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket for evaluation, and the Supreme Court docket granted allocatur.

The Supreme Court docket’s Ruling

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket reversed the conviction. The Court docket emphasised that the prosecution merely could not ask questions on a defendant’s determination to stay silent after being arrested and receiving Miranda warnings. The problem is extra sophisticated when a defendant has not but been arrested – in that case, the courts could also be extra forgiving ought to a police witness testify {that a} defendant didn’t give an announcement whereas describing the steps that the officer took to analyze the allegations.

Submit-arrest, nonetheless, there’s an absolute proper to stay silent, and the prosecution could not attempt to benefit from silence with the intention to counsel {that a} defendant is responsible. Certainly, the Court docket famous that “referencing a defendant’s post-arrest silence could imperil a complete case.” Though the proof on this case seemed to be robust, the Court docket discovered that the error was not innocent. First, it discovered that the reference to silence was not de minimis – the prosecutor had requested 4 questions on it. Second, the proof was not merely cumulative of different proof within the case. Third, the proof was not so overwhelming that the defendant couldn’t have been prejudiced. Accordingly, the Court docket granted Rivera a brand new trial.

Normally, the prosecution could not use a defendant’s silence towards them at trial. Even references to pre-arrest silence could also be inadmissible and result in reversal on attraction. However this case makes it very clear that references to post-arrest silence are notably problematic and that even only a few questions on it might result in a brand new trial. Prejudice is basically presumed when the prosecutor makes an attempt to make use of a defendant’s post-arrest determination to stay silence towards them.

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