Right to Remain Silent Results in Mistrial on Eluding Police Charge
A recent lawsuit against an Illinois resident resulted in a mistrial on appeal. At issue was whether or not the trial court erred in failing to grant a mistrial during opening statements. In this article, we’ll discuss how the trial court erred and why a mistrial was granted to the defendant.
The defendant was being followed by police who had their sirens to pull him over. However, the defendant did not stop and instead, drove to Walmart, got out of his vehicle, and proceeded into a bathroom. Because he led them on a 20-mile chase, the defendant was charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding. He pleaded not guilty and his case proceeded to trial.
During opening statements, the prosecution made mention of the fact that at no time did the defendant deny any of the charges against him or respond to police in any way. The defense asked for a sidebar and then a mistrial because the prosecution commented on his 5th Amendment right to remain silent. The mistrial was not granted by the court, and the defendant was found guilty.
The defendant appealed the decision and the appellate agreed with the defense that it was improper for prosecutors to mention that the defendant exercised his right to remain silent. The jury cannot infer anything from a defendant’s or suspect’s right to remain silent. The case was then appealed by prosecutors to the Illinois State Supreme Court which upheld the decision of the appeals court and granted the defendant’s motion for a mistrial.
Understanding the law
Police officers can infer guilt from a defendant’s unwillingness to speak or ask about what is happening to them. However, a prosecutor cannot use that as evidence of guilt before a jury since you have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. While officers are arresting you, they must make mention of your Miranda Rights, which include the right to remain silent. So, the defendant was well within his rights to remain silent during the arrest and the prosecution attempted to leverage that into a conviction.
The defense counsel for the defendant correctly asked for a sidebar and asked for a mistrial since the jury was being asked to interpret the defendant’s silence as evidence against him.
Understanding your right to remain silent
Every arrestee has the right to remain silent. Police may interpret the situation in any way they please, but in court, other rules apply. Police officers will generally press suspects into speaking against their own interests. However, they have no power to force a confession and information gleaned from silence is not usable in a court of law.
In this case, the prosecution may refile the charges against the defendant and pursue criminal charges for aggravated fleeing and eluding.
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