Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was charged with killing a man in retaliation for a robbery. Defendant claimed it was self-defense but failed to contact police for two weeks after the killing. The prosecution attempts to use Defendant’s silence before contacting police to impeach his credibility.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The right to testify in one’s own defense does not allow a defendant to commit perjury.
Issue. Did the use of pre-arrest silence to impeach Defendant violate the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments?
Held. Justice Powell issued the opinion for the United States Supreme Court holding that use of pre-arrest silence to impeach does not violate the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments.
Dissent. Justices Marshall and Brennan dissented but the text omits the opinions.
Concurrence. Justice Steward issued a concurring opinion which the text omits.
Discussion. Once a defendant decides to testify, he has an obligation to tell the truth and failure to do so invites impeachment. It is not unfair to a defendant to allow impeachment when, as in this case, defendant’s silence was prior to his arrest or being taken into custody.