422 U.S. 171 (1975), 74-364, United States v. Hale

Docket Nº:No. 74-364
Citation:422 U.S. 171, 95 S.Ct. 2133, 45 L.Ed.2d 99
Party Name:United States v. Hale
Case Date:June 23, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

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422 U.S. 171 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 2133, 45 L.Ed.2d 99

United States



No. 74-364

United States Supreme Court

June 23, 1975

Argued April 14, 1975




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. 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. 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

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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. 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. 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. 181, DOUGLAS, J., post, p. 182, and WHITE, J., post, p. 182, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent was tried and convicted of robbery in the District Court for the [95 S.Ct. 2135] District of Columbia.1 During cross-examination at trial, the prosecutor asked respondent why he had not given the police his alibi when he was questioned shortly after his arrest. The trial court instructed the jury to disregard the colloquy, but refused

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to declare a mistrial. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that inquiry into respondent's prior silence impermissibly prejudiced his defense and infringed upon his right to remain silent under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 468 n. 37 (1966). We granted certiorari, 419 U.S. 1045, because of a conflict among the Courts of Appeals over whether a defendant can be cross-examined about his silence during police interrogation,2 and because of the importance of this question to the administration of justice.

We find that the probative value of respondent's pretrial silence in this case was outweighed by the prejudicial impact of admitting it into evidence. Affirming the judgment on this ground, we have no occasion to reach the broader constitutional question that supplied an alternative basis for the decision below.


On June 1, 1971, Lonnie Arrington reported to police that he had been attacked and robbed by a group of five men. Initially, he claimed that $65 had been stolen, but he later changed the amount to $96 after consulting with his wife. As the police were preparing to accompany Arrington through the neighborhood in search of the attackers, he observed two men and identified one of them as one of his assailants. When the police gave chase, the two men fled, but one was immediately captured.

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The victim identified respondent Hale as one of the robbers.

Respondent was then arrested, taken to the police station, and advised of his right to remain silent. He was searched and found to be in possession of $158 in cash. An officer then asked: "Where did you get the money?", Hale made no response.

At trial, respondent took the witness stand in his own defense. He acknowledged having met Arrington in a shoe store on the day in question. Hale stated that, after the meeting, he was approached by three men who inquired whether Arrington had any money, to which Hale replied he "didn't know." From there, respondent claimed he went to a narcotics treatment center, where he remained until after the time of the robbery. According to his testimony, he left the center with a friend who subsequently purchased narcotics. Shortly after the transaction, they were approached by the police. Hale testified that he fled because he feared being found in the presence of a person carrying narcotics. He also insisted that his estranged wife...

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