United States v. Hale,
422 U.S. 171 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975)

United States v. Hale

No. 74-364

Argued April 14, 1975

Decided June 23, 1975

422 U.S. 171


Following respondent's arrest for robbery, he was taken to the police station, where, advised of his right to remain silent, he made no response to an officer's inquiry as to the source of money found on his person. Respondent testified at his trial and, in an effort to impeach his alibi, the prosecutor caused respondent to admit on cross-examination that he had not offered the exculpatory information to the police at the time of his arrest. The trial court instructed the jury to disregard the colloquy, but refused to declare a mistrial. Respondent was convicted. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that inquiry into respondent's prior silence impermissibly prejudiced his defense as well as infringed upon his constitutional right to remain silent under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436. The Government, relying on Raffel v. United States, 271 U. S. 494, contends that, since respondent chose to testify in his own behalf, it was permissible to impeach his credibility by proving that he had chosen to remain silent at the time of his arrest.

Held: Respondent's silence during police interrogation lacked significant probative value, and, under these circumstances, any reference to his silence carried with it an intolerably prejudicial impact. This Court, exercising its supervisory authority over the lower federal courts, therefore concludes that respondent is entitled to a new trial. Pp. 422 U. S. 176-181.

(a) Under the circumstances of this case, the failure of respondent, who had just been given the Miranda warnings, to respond during custodial interrogation to inquiry about the money can as easily connote reliance on the right to remain silent as to support an inference that his trial testimony was a later fabrication. Raffel v. United States, supra, distinguished. Pp. 422 U. S. 176-177.

(b) Respondent's prior silence was not so clearly inconsistent with his trial testimony as to warrant admission into evidence of that silence as evidence of a prior inconsistent "statement," as is manifested by the facts that (1) respondent had repeatedly asserted innocence during the proceedings; (2) he was being questioned in secretive surroundings, with no one but the police also

Page 422 U. S. 172

present; and (3) as the target of eyewitness identification, he was clearly a "potential defendant." Grunewald v. United States, 353 U. S. 391, followed. Pp. 422 U. S. 177-180.

(c) Admission of evidence of silence at the time of arrest has a significant potential for prejudice in that the jury may assign much more weight to the defendant's previous silence than is warranted. P. 422 U. S. 180.

162 U.S. App. D.C. 305, 498 F.2d 1038, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 422 U. S. 181, DOUGLAS, J., post, p. 422 U. S. 182, and WHITE, J., post, p. 422 U. S. 182, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result.

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