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Fletcher v. Weir

U.S.
Mar 22, 1982
455 U.S. 603 (1982)

Summary

holding that Doyle does not prohibit the government from commenting on a defendant's post-arrest, but pre-Miranda warnings, silence

Summary of this case from United States v. Wright

Opinion

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

No. 81-1049.

Decided March 22, 1982

Held: Respondent was not denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by the prosecutor's use, at respondent's state-court trial which resulted in a conviction for first-degree manslaughter, of his postarrest silence for impeachment purposes — the record not indicating that respondent had been given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, during the period in which he remained silent immediately after his arrest. In testifying in his own defense, respondent stated for the first time that he acted in self-defense in stabbing the victim and that the stabbing was accidental. The prosecutor then cross-examined him as to why he had failed to advance his exculpatory explanation to the arresting officers. Absent the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings — which at least implicitly assure the defendant that his silence will not be used against him — a State does not violate due process by permitting cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand. Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (where Miranda warnings were given), distinguished.

Certiorari granted; 658 F.2d 1126, reversed and remanded.


In the course of a fight in a nightclub parking lot, Ronnie Buchanan pinned respondent Weir to the ground. Buchanan then jumped to his feet and shouted that he had been stabbed; he ultimately died from his stab wounds. Respondent immediately left the scene, and did not report the incident to the police.

At his trial for intentional murder, respondent took the stand in his own defense. He admitted stabbing Buchanan, but claimed that he acted in self-defense and that the stabbing was accidental. This in-court statement was the first occasion on which respondent offered an exculpatory version of the stabbing. The prosecutor cross-examined him as to why he had, when arrested, failed either to advance his exculpatory explanation to the arresting officers or to disclose the location of the knife he had used to stab Buchanan. Respondent was ultimately found guilty by a jury of first-degree manslaughter. The conviction was affirmed on appeal to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky then granted respondent a writ of habeas corpus, and the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 658 F.2d 1126 (1981). The Court of Appeals concluded that respondent was denied due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment when the prosecutor used his post-arrest silence for impeachment purposes. Although it did not appear from the record that the arresting officers had immediately read respondent his Miranda warnings, the court concluded that a defendant cannot be impeached by use of his postarrest silence even if no Miranda warnings had been given. The court held that "it is inherently unfair to allow cross-examination concerning post-arrest silence," 658 F.2d, at 1130, and rejected the contention that our decision in Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976), applied only where the police had read Miranda warnings to a defendant. Because we think that the Court of Appeals gave an overly broad reading to our decision in Doyle v. Ohio, supra, we reverse its judgment.

During cross-examination, the prosecutor also questioned respondent concerning his failure prior to his arrest to report the incident to the police and offer his exculpatory story. Relying on our decision in Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980), the Court of Appeals correctly held that there was no constitutional impropriety in the prosecutor's use of respondent's pre-arrest silence for impeachment purposes.

Page 604 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

One year prior to our decision in Doyle, we held in the exercise of our supervisory power over the federal courts that silence following the giving of Miranda warnings was ordinarily so ambiguous as to have little probative value. United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975). There we said:

"In light of the many alternative explanations for his pretrial silence, we do not think it sufficiently probative of an inconsistency with his in-court testimony to warrant admission of evidence thereof." Id., at 180.

The principles which evolved on the basis of decisional law dealing with appeals within the federal court system are not, of course, necessarily based on any constitutional principle. Where they are not, the States are free to follow or to disregard them so long as the state procedure as a whole remains consistent with due process of law. See Cupp v. Naughten, 414 U.S. 141, 146 (1973). The year after our decision in Hale, we were called upon to decide an issue similar to that presented in Hale in the context of a state criminal proceeding. While recognizing the importance of cross-examination and of exposing fabricated defenses, we held in Doyle v. Ohio, supra, that because of the nature of Miranda warnings it would be a violation of due process to allow comment on the silence which the warnings may well have encouraged:

"[W]hile it is true that the Miranda warnings contain no express assurance that silence will carry no penalty, such assurance is implicit to any person who receives the warnings. In such circumstances, it would be fundamentally unfair and a deprivation of due process to allow the arrested person's silence to be used to impeach an explanation subsequently offered at trial." Id., at 618 (footnote omitted).

The significant difference between the present case and Doyle is that the record does not indicate that respondent Weir received any Miranda warnings during the period in which he remained silent immediately after his arrest. The majority of the Court of Appeals recognized the difference, but sought to extend Doyle to cover Weir's situation by stating that "[w]e think an arrest, by itself, is governmental action which implicitly induces a defendant to remain silent." 658 F.2d at 1131. We think that this broadening of Doyle is unsupported by the reasoning of that case and contrary to our post- Doyle decisions.

In Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231, 239 (1980), a case dealing with pre-arrest silence, we said:

"Common law traditionally has allowed witnesses to be impeached by their previous failure to state a fact in circumstances in which that fact naturally would have been asserted. 3A J. Wigmore, Evidence § 1042, p. 1056 (Chadbourn rev. 1970). Each jurisdiction may formulate its own rules of evidence to determine when prior silence is so inconsistent with present statements that impeachment by reference to such silence is probative."

In Jenkins, as in other post- Doyle cases, we have consistently explained Doyle as a case where the government had induced silence by implicitly assuring the defendant that his silence would not be used against him. In Roberts v. United States, 445 U.S. 552, 561 (1980), we observed that the post-conviction, presentencing silence of the defendant did not resemble "postarrest silence that may be induced by the assurances contained in Miranda warnings." In Jenkins, we noted that the failure to speak involved in that case occurred before the defendant was taken into custody and was given his Miranda warnings, commenting that no governmental action induced the defendant to remain silent before his arrest. 447 U.S., at 239-240. Finally, in Anderson v. Charles, 447 U.S. 404, 407-408 (1980), we explained that use of silence for impeachment was fundamentally unfair in Doyle because " Miranda warnings inform a person of his right to remain silent and assure him, at least implicitly, that his silence will not be used against him. . . . Doyle bars the use against a criminal defendant of silence maintained after receipt of governmental assurances."

In the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings, we do not believe that it violates due process of law for a State to permit cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand. A State is entitled, in such situations, to leave to the judge and jury under its own rules of evidence the resolution of the extent to which postarrest silence may be deemed to impeach a criminal defendant's own testimony.

The motion of respondent for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted.

The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

JUSTICE BRENNAN would set the case for oral argument.

JUSTICE MARSHALL dissents from the summary reversal of this case.


Summaries of

Fletcher v. Weir

U.S.
Mar 22, 1982
455 U.S. 603 (1982)

holding that Doyle does not prohibit the government from commenting on a defendant's post-arrest, but pre-Miranda warnings, silence

Summary of this case from United States v. Wright

holding that prosecutor's reference, during cross-examination of testifying defendant, to defendant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence was constitutional

Summary of this case from Skunkcap v. Wasden

holding that impeachment by post-arrest pre-Miranda silence did not violate Doyle, rejecting the argument that "arrest, by itself, is governmental action which implicitly induces a defendant to remain silent"

Summary of this case from Herrod v. Steele

holding that impeachment with post-arrest silence is not a due process violation in the absence of Miranda warnings

Summary of this case from Cobell v. Smith

holding that the Doyle prohibition does not apply to post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence

Summary of this case from White v. Johnson

holding that post-arrest silence may be used to impeach exculpatory testimony where no Miranda warnings given; "In the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings, we do not believe that it violates due process of law for a State to permit cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand"

Summary of this case from Feagins v. Ricci

holding that the use of post-arrest, pre- Miranda silence for impeachment purposes does not violate the federal Constitution

Summary of this case from Rigterink v. State

holding that due process was not violated by prosecutor's comments on defendant's silence following his arrest but before he received Miranda warnings because of "the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings"

Summary of this case from State v. Muhammad

holding that where postarrest Miranda warnings were not given, cross-examination as to postarrest silence does not violate due process when defendant chooses to take the stand

Summary of this case from State v. Fair

holding that it is not a violation of due process of law to impeach a testifying defendant with his post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence

Summary of this case from State v. Kennedy

holding that postarrest, pre-Miranda silence could be admitted on cross-examination to impeach

Summary of this case from State v. White

finding no Doyle violation, where the record did not indicate that the defendant received any Miranda warnings during the period in which he remained silent immediately after his arrest

Summary of this case from Lainhart v. State

ruling that post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence used for impeachment does not violate the Due Process Clause

Summary of this case from Darrah v. Warden

rejecting the Sixth Circuit's decision which held that arrest alone was governmental action which implicitly induces a defendant to remain silent

Summary of this case from State v. Hunt

In Fletcher, the Supreme Court held only that using in-custody, pre-Miranda silence to impeach a defendant who has taken the stand does not violate due process.

Summary of this case from United States v. Cabezas-Montano

limiting Doyle to cases involving post-Miranda silence "where the government had induced silence by implicitly assuring the defendant that his silence would not be used against him"

Summary of this case from United States v. Smalls

In Weir, the Supreme Court held that "[i]n the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings, we do not believe that it violates due process of law for a State to permit cross-examination as to postarrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand."

Summary of this case from White v. Thaler

In Fletcher, the defendant testified on his own behalf that he did stab the victim, but claimed (for the first time) that he acted in self-defense and that the stabbing was accidental.

Summary of this case from Bland v. Sirmons

concerning post-arrest, pre- Miranda silence

Summary of this case from Buckner v. Polk

In Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603, 102 S.Ct. 1309, 71 L.Ed.2d 490 (1982) (per curiam), the Supreme Court held that a defendant's post-arrest silence before receiving Miranda warnings can be used for impeachment.Id. at 605-07, 102 S.Ct. 1309.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Johnson

In Fletcher, the Court held that impeachment by post-arrest pre- Miranda silence did not violate Doyle, rejecting the argument that "arrest, by itself, is governmental action which implicitly induces a defendant to remain silent."

Summary of this case from Vick v. Lockhart

In Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603, 605-06, 102 S.Ct. 1309, 1311-12, 71 L.Ed.2d 490 (1982) (per curiam), statements made following arrest but before receiving Miranda warnings were held admissible.

Summary of this case from Smith v. Cadagin

In Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603, 102 S.Ct. 1309, 71 L.Ed.2d 490 (1982) (per curiam), the Court held that it does not violate due process for a state to permit cross-examination as to post-arrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand.

Summary of this case from United States v. Cardenas Alvarado

In Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603, 102 S.Ct. 1309, 71 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980) the court held that the Doyle rule only applies where governmental action induced the defendant to remain silent.

Summary of this case from United States v. Disbrow

In Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603, 102 S.Ct. 1309, 71 L.Ed.2d 490 (1982), the Supreme Court held that there is no Doyle violation when a defendant is cross-examined about his post-arrest silence where no Miranda warnings had been given following the arrest.

Summary of this case from Phelps v. Duckworth
Case details for

Fletcher v. Weir

Case Details

Full title:FLETCHER, SUPERINTENDENT, BELL COUNTY FORESTRY CAMP v . WEIR

Court:U.S.

Date published: Mar 22, 1982

Citations

455 U.S. 603 (1982)
102 S. Ct. 1309

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