Under police questioning, do you have the right to remain silent? New court decisions have chipped away at that principle, reports NPR. Richard Tom of California broadsided a car, injuring a girl and killing her sister. At no point did he ask police about the victims. During his trial for vehicular manslaughter, a prosecutor told the jury that Tom’s failure to ask about them pointed to the “consciousness of his own guilt.” Tom was in custody for two hours before he was read his rights. The California Supreme Court said his silence at the scene of the accident could be used against him.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar decision last year, in a case involving a suspect’s silence before arrest. The suspect voluntarily answered police questions for nearly two hours but refused to talk in depth about a gun found in his house. The prosecutor used that against him at trial. “Most people assume that if you have a right and you exercise it, that’s all you need to do,” says Stanford law professor Jeff Fisher. Fisher says the courts’ rulings set a trap for the unwary.