It looks like a murder case currently before the United States Supreme Court could have a significant impact on DWI investigations. The case of Salinas v. Texas was heard by the Court on April 17, 2013 to determine if a suspect’s silence prior to his arrest can be used against him during a prosecutor’s case at trial. Although there is a world of difference between a murder investigation and a DWI investigation the issue presented here affects both kinds of cases.
During a DWI investigation some of the most important statements or admissions by a suspect are made prior to his arrest. One of the first questions a police officer will ask is, “How much have you had to drink tonight?” Currently, the courts are split on whether a suspect’s refusal to answer a question like that prior to his arrest can be used against him in court.
If the United States Supreme Court rules that a suspect has a right to silence even prior to his arrest, then it could open to door to even more issues in DWI cases. The most important question then would be, can the refusal of field sobriety tests be used against a suspect in court? Similar to answering a police officer’s questions, a suspect has the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests. Currently under Missouri law, such a refusal of field sobriety tests can be used against a suspect in court.
It will be interesting to watch for the Court’s ruling in Salinas v. Texas and what possible implications for DWI cases may result.
Source: ABA Journal, “Court Weighs Whether a Prosecutor Can Use a Defendant’s Refusal to Answer a Question,” Mark Walsh, April 1, 2013.
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