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When Can Prosecutors Use Silence Against You in a DUI Case?

 Posted on April 16, 2019 in DUI

When Can Prosecutors Use Silence Against You in DUI Case?Silence has been the prevailing wisdom when stopped by a police officer on the suspicion of a crime such as driving under the influence. By not saying anything, you avoid potentially incriminating yourself with your words. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to refrain from answering a question that may incriminate you, and the Miranda Rights that police must read after your arrest starts with “You have the right to remain silent.” Defense attorneys have long argued that silence cannot be portrayed as an admission of guilt during a case. However, a California Supreme Court ruling in 2014 determined that a defendant’s silence after a DUI stop could be used against him in court.

People v. Tom

In the case of People v. Tom, the defendant was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated after being involved in a fatal car collision. During the trial, the prosecution mentioned that the defendant had not asked the responding police officers about the condition of the occupants of the other vehicle before his arrest. The prosecutor argued that the defendant was silent because he either knew he was guilty of DUI or had a reckless disregard for the safety of others. The jury convicted the defendant, who appealed in part because he claimed his silence should not have been allowed as evidence of his guilt. The California Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution was within its right to present that evidence because:

  • The defendant had not been read his Miranda Rights at the time of his silence; and
  • A suspect must expressly invoke his or her right to remain silent.

What It Means

Your right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination is always available, but the circumstances can determine whether the court will presume that you were invoking that right. The court will look at:

  • When the police officer read your Miranda Rights;
  • Whether your silence was in response to the police officer interrogating you; and
  • Whether you verbally invoked your right to remain silent.

A court can reasonably assume that you were exercising your Fifth Amendment rights after a police officer has read your Miranda Rights. However, the California Supreme Court concluded that you need to tell the officer that you are invoking your right to remain silent if it is before you have been read your Miranda Rights.

Contact a Sonoma DUI Defense Attorney

You are still best served by not answering a police officer’s questions during a DUI arrest. You can cooperate by answering basic questions about your identity, but tell the officer that you are exercising your right to remain silent when the questions turn towards whether you have been drinking and your current condition. A San Francisco DUI defense lawyer at Burglin Law Offices, P.C., will talk for you if you are arrested. Schedule a free consultation by calling 415-729-7300. 



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