Wainwright v. Greenfield,
474 U.S. 284 (1986)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Wainwright v. Greenfield, 474 U.S. 284 (1986)

Wainwright v. Greenfield

No. 84-1480

Argued November 13, 1985

Decided January 14, 1986

474 U.S. 284


On three occasions shortly after his arrest in Florida for sexual battery, respondent was given Miranda warnings, and in each instance he exercised his right to remain silent and stated that he wished to speak with an attorney before answering any questions. Respondent later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and in the closing arguments in the Florida trial court, the prosecutor, over defense counsel's objection, reviewed police officer testimony as to the occasions on which respondent had exercised his right to remain silent, and suggested that respondent's repeated refusals to answer questions without first consulting an attorney demonstrated a degree of comprehension that was inconsistent with his claim of insanity. Respondent's subsequent conviction was affirmed by the Florida Court of Appeal, which held that the general rule precluding prosecutorial comment as to a defendant's exercise of his right to remain silent did not apply to a case in which an insanity plea was filed. Respondent then unsuccessfully sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under the reasoning of Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U. S. 610, respondent was entitled to a new trial.

Held: The prosecutor's use of respondent's postarrest, post-Miranda warnings silence as evidence of sanity violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 474 U. S. 289-295.

(a) In Doyle, supra, it was held that the prosecutor's impeachment of the defendants' exculpatory testimony by asking them on cross-examination why they had not explained their conduct at the time of their arrest was fundamentally unfair, and therefore violated the Due Process Clause. The source of the unfairness was the implicit assurance contained in Miranda warnings that silence will carry no penalty. Pp. 474 U. S. 289-291.

(b) There is no merit to the argument that Doyle does not control this case because proof of sanity is significantly different from proof of the commission of the underlying offense. The point of the Doyle holding is that it is fundamentally unfair to promise an arrested person that his silence will not be used against him and thereafter to breach that promise by using the silence to impeach his trial testimony. It is equally unfair

Page 474 U. S. 285

to breach that promise by using silence to overcome a defendant's plea of insanity. South Dakota v. Neville, 459 U. S. 553, distinguished. Pp. 292-293.

(c) The argument that Doyle should not control this case because a suspect's comprehension of Miranda warnings, as evidenced by his silence, is far more probative of sanity than of commission of the underlying offense, is also unpersuasive. Such argument fails to meet the problem of fundamental unfairness that flows from the State's breach of its implied assurances. Pp. 474 U. S. 293-294.

(d) A State's legitimate interest in proving that the defendant's behavior appeared to be rational at the time of his arrest can be served by carefully framed questions that avoid any mention of the defendant's exercise of his constitutional rights to remain silent and to consult counsel. Pp. 474 U. S. 294-295.

741 F.2d 329, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 296.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.