The defendant was involved in an altercation that led to the death of another man. The defendant immediately left the scene and did not report the incident to the police. He was later arrested for murder but at no time was he provided Miranda warnings. At his trial, the defendant took the witness stand. He admitted to accidently stabbing the victim but claimed to have acted in self-defense. This was the first time the defendant had offered an exculpatory explanation of the events. On cross-examination, the prosecution asked why the defendant had not offered this explanation to the police at the time of his arrest, or disclose the location of the knife.
Whether the government may use the defendant’s silence to impeach his testimony?
Yes. The government may use the defendant’s silence against him if no Miranda warnings were provided.
It is fundamentally unfair and a deprivation of due process to use a person’s silence against them after they have accepted the protections of their Miranda rights. The government should not be able to coax a suspect into remaining silent through a reading of the Miranda rights and then use that silence against him at trial. However, the defendant here was not promised that his silence would not be used against him, as he was not read his Miranda rights. The Court found that, absent this promise, the government was free to introduce the defendant’s silence against him at trial for purposes of impeachment, as his silence was inconsistent with his defense. It would have been reasonable to assume that a person would want to explain their involvement in an accidental stabbing rather than face a murder charge.
455 U.S. 603, 102 S. Ct. 1309 (1982)