426 U.S. 610 (1976), 75-5014, Doyle v. Ohio

Docket Nº:No. 75-5014
Citation:426 U.S. 610, 96 S.Ct. 2240, 49 L.Ed.2d 91, 54 U.S.L.W. 2230
Party Name:Doyle v. Ohio
Case Date:June 17, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 610

426 U.S. 610 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2240, 49 L.Ed.2d 91, 54 U.S.L.W. 2230




No. 75-5014

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1976

Argued February 23, 1976




During the course of their state criminal trials petitioners, who, after arrest, were given warnings in line with Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 467-473, took the stand and gave an exculpatory story that they had not previously told to the police or the prosecutor. Over their counsel's objection, they were cross-examined as to why they had not given the arresting officer the exculpatory explanations. Petitioners were convicted, and their convictions were upheld on appeal.

Held: The use for impeachment purposes of petitioners' silence, at the time of arrest and after they received Miranda warnings, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Post-arrest silence following such warnings is insolubly ambiguous; moreover, it would be fundamentally unfair to allow an arrestee's silence to be used to impeach an explanation subsequently given at trial after he had been impliedly assured, by the Miranda warnings, that silence would carry no penalty. Pp. 616-620.

Reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 620.

Page 611

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in these consolidated cases is whether a state prosecutor may seek to impeach a defendant's exculpatory story, told for the first time at trial, by cross-examining the defendant about his failure to have told the story after receiving Miranda warnings1 at the time of his arrest. We conclude that use of the defendant's post-arrest silence in this manner violates due process, and therefore reverse the convictions of both petitioners.


Petitioners Doyle and Wood were arrested together and charged with selling 10 pounds of marihuana to a local narcotics bureau informant. They were convicted in the Common Pleas Court of Tuscarawas [96 S.Ct. 2242] County, Ohio, in separate trials held about one week apart. The evidence at their trials was identical in all material respects.

The State's witnesses sketched a picture of a routine marihuana transaction. William Bonnell, a well known "street person" with a long criminal record, offered to assist the local narcotics investigation unit in setting up drug "pushers" in return for support in his efforts to receive lenient treatment in his latest legal problems. The narcotics agents agreed. A short time later, Bonnell advised the unit that he had arranged a "buy" of 10 pounds of marihuana and needed $1,750 to pay for it. Since the banks were closed and time was short, the agents were able to collect only $1,320. Bonnell took this money and left for the rendezvous, under surveillance by four narcotics agents in two cars. As planned, he met petitioners in a bar in Dover, Ohio. From there, he and petitioner Wood drove in Bonnell's

Page 612

pickup truck to the nearby town of New Philadelphia, Ohio, while petitioner Doyle drove off to obtain the marihuana and then meet them at a prearranged location in New Philadelphia. The narcotics agents followed the Bonnell truck. When Doyle arrived at Bonnell's waiting truck in New Philadelphia, the two vehicles proceeded to a parking lot, where the transaction took place. Bonnell left in his truck, and Doyle and Wood departed in Doyle's car. They quickly discovered that they had been paid $430 less than the agreed-upon price, and began circling the neighborhood looking for Bonnell. They were stopped within minutes by New Philadelphia police acting on radioed instructions from the narcotics agents. One of those agents, Kenneth Beamer, arrived on the scene promptly, arrested petitioners, and gave them Miranda warnings. A search of the car, authorized by warrant, uncovered the $1,320. At both trials, defense counsel's cross-examination of the participating narcotics agents was aimed primarily at establishing that, due to a limited view of the parking lot, none of them had seen the actual transaction but had seen only Bonnell standing next to Doyle's car with a package under his arm, presumably after the transaction.2 Each petitioner took the stand at his trial and admitted practically everything about the State's case except the most crucial point: who was

Page 613

selling marihuana to whom. According to petitioners, Bonnell had framed them. The arrangement had been for Bonnell to sell Doyle 10 pounds of marihuana. Doyle had left the Dover bar for the purpose of borrowing the necessary money, but, while driving by himself, had decided that he only wanted one or two pounds, instead of the agreed-upon 10 pounds. When Bonnell reached Doyle's car in the New Philadelphia parking lot, with the marihuana under his arm, Doyle tried to explain his change of mind. Bonnell grew angry, threw the $1,320 into Doyle's car, and took all 10 pounds of the marihuana back to his truck. The ensuing chase was the effort of Wood and Doyle to catch Bonnell to find out what the $1,320 was all about.

Petitioners' explanation of the events presented some difficulty for the prosecution, as it was not entirely implausible and there was little if any direct evidence to contradict it.3 As part of a wide-ranging cross-examination for impeachment purposes, and in an effort to undercut the explanation, the prosecutor asked each petitioner at his respective trial why he had not told the frame-up story to Agent Beamer when he arrested petitioners. In the first trial, that of petitioner Wood, the [96 S.Ct. 2243] following colloquy occurred:4

Q. [By the prosecutor.] Mr. Beamer did arrive on the scene?

A. [By Wood.] Yes, he did.

Q. And I assume you told him all about what happened to you?

* * * *

A. No.

Page 614

Q. You didn't tell Mr. Beamer?

* * * *

A. No.

Q. You didn't tell Mr. Beamer this guy put $1,300 in your car?

A. No, sir.

Q. And we can't understand any reason why anyone would put money in your car and you were chasing him around town and trying to give it back?

A. I didn't understand that.

Q. You mean you didn't tell him that?

A. Tell him what?

Q. Mr. Wood, if that is all you had to do with this and you are innocent, when Mr. Beamer arrived on the scene, why didn't you tell him?

* * * *

Q But, in any event, you didn't bother to tell Mr. Beamer anything about this?

A. No, sir.

Defense counsel's timely objections to the above questions of the prosecutor were overruled. The cross-examination of petitioner Doyle at his trial contained a similar exchange, and again defense counsel's timely objections were overruled.5

Page 615

Each petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals, Fifth District, Tuscarawas County, alleging, inter alia, that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to cross-examine the petitioner at his trial about his post-arrest silence. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, stating as to the contentions about the post-arrest silence:

This was not evidence offered by the state in its case in chief as confession by silence or as substantive evidence of guilt, but rather cross examination

Page 616

of a witness as to why he had not told the same story earlier at his first opportunity.

[96 S.Ct. 2244]

We find no error in this. It goes to credibility of the witness.

The Supreme Court of Ohio denied further review. We granted certiorari to decide whether impeachment use of a defendant's post-arrest silence violates any provision of the Constitution,6 a question left open last Term in United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975), and on which the Federal Courts of Appeals are in conflict. See id. at 173 n. 2.


The State pleads necessity as justification for the prosecutor's action in these cases. It argues that the discrepancy between an exculpatory story at trial and silence at time of arrest gives rise to an inference that the story was fabricated somewhere along the way, perhaps to fit within the seams of the State's case as it was developed at pretrial hearings. Noting that the prosecution usually has little else with which to counter such an exculpatory story, the State seeks only the right to cross-examine a defendant as to post-arrest silence for the limited purpose of impeachment. In support of its position, the State emphasizes the importance of cross-examination

Page 617

in general, see Brown v. United States, 356 U.S. 148, 154-155 (1958), and relies upon those cases in which this Court has permitted use for impeachment purposes of post-arrest statements that were inadmissible as evidence of guilt because of an officer's failure to follow Miranda's dictates. Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971); Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 714 (1975); see also Walder v. United States, 347 U.S. 62 (1954). Thus, although the State does not suggest petitioners' silence could be used as evidence of guilt, it contends that the need to present to the jury all information relevant to the truth of petitioners' exculpatory story fully justifies the cross-examination that is at issue.

Despite the importance of cross-examination,7 we have concluded that the Miranda decision compels rejection of the State's position. The warnings mandated by that case, as a prophylactic means of safeguarding Fifth Amendment rights, see Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 433, 443-444 (1974), require that a person taken into custody be advised immediately that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says may be used against him, and that he has a...

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