Home - Site Index - Site Search/Archive - Help
Member Center - Log Out
|NYTimes.com > Washington|
FLETCHER, SUPERINTENDENT, BELL COUNTY FORESTRY CAMP v. WEIR.
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
Decided March 22, 1982
Respondent was not denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by the prosecutor's use, at respondent's state-court trial which resulted in a conviction for first-degree manslaughter, of his postarrest silence for impeachment purposes - the record not indicating that respondent had been given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 , during the period in which he remained silent immediately after his arrest. In testifying in his own defense, respondent stated for the first time that he acted in self-defense in stabbing the victim and that the stabbing was accidental. The prosecutor then cross-examined him as to why he had failed to advance his exculpatory explanation to the arresting officers. Absent the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings - which at least implicitly assure the defendant that his silence will not be used against him - a State does not violate due process by permitting cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (where Miranda warnings were given), distinguished.
Certiorari granted; 658 F.2d 1126, reversed and remanded.
In the course of a fight in a nightclub parking lot, Ronnie Buchanan pinned respondent Weir to the ground. Buchanan then jumped to his feet and shouted that he had been stabbed; he ultimately died from his stab wounds. Respondent immediately left the scene, and did not report the incident to the police.
At his trial for intentional murder, respondent took the stand in his own defense. He admitted stabbing Buchanan, but claimed that he acted in self-defense and that the stabbing was accidental. This in-court statement was the first occasion on which respondent offered an exculpatory version of the stabbing. The prosecutor cross-examined him as to [455 U.S. 603, 604] why he had, when arrested, failed either to advance his exculpatory explanation to the arresting officers or to disclose the location of the knife he had used to stab Buchanan. Respondent was ultimately found guilty by a jury of first-degree manslaughter. The conviction was affirmed on appeal to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.
The United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky then granted respondent a writ of habeas corpus, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 658 F.2d 1126 (1981). The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent was denied due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment when the prosecutor used his post-arrest silence for impeachment purposes. 1 Although it did not appear from the record that the arresting officers had immediately read respondent his Miranda warnings, 2 the court concluded that a defendant cannot be impeached by use of his postarrest silence even if no Miranda warnings had been given. The court held that "it is inherently unfair to allow cross-examination concerning post-arrest silence," 658 F.2d, at 1130, and rejected the contention that our decision in Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976), applied only where the police had read Miranda warnings to a defendant. Because we think that the Court of Appeals gave an overly broad reading to our decision in Doyle v. Ohio, supra, we reverse its judgment.
One year prior to our decision in Doyle, we held in the exercise of our supervisory power over the federal courts that silence following the giving of Miranda warnings was ordinarily [455 U.S. 603, 605] so ambiguous as to have little probative value. United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975). There we said:
In Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231, 239 (1980), a case dealing with pre-arrest silence, we said:
In the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings, we do not believe that it violates due process of law for a State to permit cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand. A State is entitled, in such situations, to leave to the judge and jury under its own rules of evidence the resolution of the extent to which postarrest silence may be deemed to impeach a criminal defendant's own testimony.
The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.
The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
JUSTICE MARSHALL dissents from the summary reversal of this case.
[ Footnote 2 ] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). [455 U.S. 603, 608]