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Law School Case Brief

Fletcher v. Weir - 455 U.S. 603, 102 S. Ct. 1309 (1982)

Rule:

In the absence of the sort of affirmative assurances embodied in the Miranda warnings, it does not violate due process of law for a state to permit cross-examination as to post-arrest silence when a defendant chooses to take the stand. A state is entitled, in such situations, to leave to the judge and jury under its own rules of evidence the resolution of the extent to which post-arrest silence may be deemed to impeach a criminal defendant's own testimony. 

Facts:

At his trial for intentional murder in a Kentucky state court, defendant Weir took the stand in his own defense, admitting that he stabbed the victim, Ronnie Buchanan, but claiming, for the first time, that he acted in self-defense and that the stabbing was accidental. The prosecutor cross-examined Weir as to why he had, when arrested, failed either to advance his exculpatory explanation to the arresting officers or to disclose the location of the knife he had used to stab the victim. Weir was convicted of first degree manslaughter and the conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Kentucky. Subsequently, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky granted Weir a writ of habeas corpus, and the United States Court of Appeals for Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that Weir was denied due process of law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment when the prosecutor used his post-arrest silence for impeachment purposes, and that, although it did not appear from the record that the arresting officers had immediately read Weir his Miranda warnings, Weir could not be impeached by use of this post-arrest silence even if no Miranda warnings had been given.

Issue:

Was Weir denied due process when the government used his post-arrest silence for impeachment purpose?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States held that, in the absence of Miranda warnings, it was not a violation of due process to allow the government to cross-examine an inmate on his post-arrest silence when he chose to take the stand. In reversing, the Court concluded that a state was entitled, in such situations, to leave to the judge and jury under its own rules of evidence the resolution of the extent to which post-arrest silence impeached a criminal defendant's own testimony.

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