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Appellate court upholds California defendant's right to remain silent

 Posted on March 27,2012 in Criminal Defense

Most Californians may be familiar with the constitutional concept of the right to remain silent. Popular culture has long depicted Miranda rights in cop shows to wrap up an episode. That public awareness, however, does not necessarily include recognition of the importance, or the potential abuse of the important constitutional right.

A state appeals court recently threw out a conviction of a Redwood City man based upon the court's finding that prosecutors violated the defendant's right to remain silent before the jury at trial. The man was accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence after a fatal accident at a Redwood City intersection in February 2007.

The prosecutor told the jury that the man accused of negligence did not ask about the occupants of the other car involved in the accident. The prosecutor unfairly argued to the jury that the man's silence after the alleged crash showed that he knew that he was in the wrong at the time of the accident. The man's silence occurred when he was effectively under arrest, according to the appellate court ruling, which was handed down last week.

Constitutional rights serve as the very foundation of our country. The integrity of our system, including our system of criminal justice, requires that constitutional rights remain effectively vindicated.

The man was originally sentenced to seven years in prison after the conviction. The appellate panel unanimously reversed the conviction. The appellate panel found that the "highly prejudicial" constitutional violation may have unfairly influenced the jury's verdict. The panel reversed the unfair conviction.

Defendants who are facing criminal charges have the right to remain silent. Santa Cruz criminal defense attorneys are aware that that important constitutional right would be a mere illusion if prosecutors are allowed to use the right to remain silent against a person accused of a crime.

In the recent ruling, the appellate court found that the comments the prosecutor made to the jury about what the defendant did not say during a custodial interrogation were not a mere technicality, but a full-on constitutional violation resulting in a unfair conviction. Prosecutors cannot use a defendant's exercise of the right to remain silent as evidence to show guilt. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court level. It is unclear whether a second trial will be held in the matter.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "New trial OKd for man who didn't ask about victims," Bob Egelko, Mar. 21, 2012

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