Pro: Pre-arrest silence a lawful observation that should be presented
July 7, 2013 at 2:07 a.m.
George Filley was a police officer in 1966 in Victoria when the Supreme Court decided a case called "Miranda v. Arizona."
The case set the precedent that law enforcement must warn suspects their statements about a crime after they have been placed in handcuffs are fair game.
Filley, who later served as Victoria County's district attorney, remembered the panic afterward, but it did not last long.
"You had a lot of people saying, 'Oh my God. We'll never be able to investigate a case again,' or, 'If we have to tell them they have the right to remain silent, then we'll never get a confession,'" said Filley, now a defense attorney.
The most recent Supreme Court ruling will not necessarily make his job as a defense attorney any harder. That's because suspects who choose to cooperate during an investigation have always done so at their own peril. The justices aren't stripping any rights away that aren't already laid out in the Constitution; rather, they are enumerating them, he said.
Victoria County Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler agreed on that point.
Although he doesn't always agree with the justices, he thanks them for clarifying what had previously been a gray area for some jurisdictions.
"They are going back to a definitive standard, which over the years has gotten stretched beyond recognition," Tyler said.
He added that admitting testimony about a suspect's pre-arrest silence and an officer's perception of why the suspect reacted to a pointed question in that manner is little different than other evidence that is gathered before trial. That evidence may be gathered using the five senses but especially sight, hearing and smell.
"Pre-arrest statements or pre-arrest nonstatements are all lawful observations," Tyler said.
Law enforcement officers who have additional training are uniquely qualified to evaluate a suspect's demeanor, Lt. Brandon Riedel of the Port Lavaca Police Department said.
He declined to elaborate on what reactions point to guilt because criminals might use that information to cheat the system.
He does not question a prosecutor's actions at trial because the two's roles in the justice process are different, but he recognizes someone may stay silent for many reasons.
"It just depends on the circumstances," Riedel said. "That's why when we talk to people, we talk to them as human beings, instead of cop and robber."
Someone's silence is just another clue on a truth-seeking mission, although he covers his bases by informing suspects who are not in custody that they are allowed to leave at anytime, Riedel's colleague, Detective Colin Rangnow, said.
"A good investigator, if they follow the rules, is going to be successful either way," Rangnow said.
For some people, a one-hour television police drama informs or misinforms them about their rights. And, while it would be ideal if both parents and teachers educated youngsters about their rights, ignorance is not an excuse, Tyler said.
"I would like to think that our basic instruction in civics and our basic awareness would exceed that of 'Starsky and Hutch,'" he said.