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Law School Case Brief

Pennsylvania v. Muniz - 496 U.S. 582, 110 S. Ct. 2638 (1990)


The Self-Incrimination Clause of the U.S. Const. amend. V provides that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. Although the test does not delineate the ways in which a person might be made a witness against himself, the  Supreme Court of the United States has long held that the privilege does not protect a suspect from being compelled by the state to produce real or physical evidence. Rather, the privilege protects an accused only from being compelled to testify against himself, or otherwise provide the state with evidence of a testimonial or communicative nature. In order to be testimonial, an accused's communication must itself, explicitly or implicitly, relate a factual assertion or disclose information. Only then is a person compelled to be a witness against himself. 


Respondent Inocencio Muniz was arrested for driving while under the influence on a Pennsylvania highway. Without being advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, he was taken to a booking center where, as was the routine practice, he was told that his actions and voice would be videotaped. He then answered seven questions regarding his name, address, height, weight, eye color, date of birth, and current age, stumbling over two responses. He was also asked, and was unable to give, the date of his sixth birthday. In addition, he made several incriminating statements while he performed physical sobriety tests and when he was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. He refused to take the breathalyzer test and was advised, for the first time, of his Miranda rights. Both the video and audio portions of the tape were admitted at trial in Pennsylvania state court, and he was convicted. His motion for a new trial on the ground that the court should have excluded, inter alia, the videotape was denied. On appeal, the superior court vacated Muniz's conviction. While finding that the videotape of the sobriety testing exhibited physical rather than testimonial evidence within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, the court concluded that Muniz's answers to questions and his other verbalizations were testimonial and, thus, the audio portion of the tape should have been suppressed in its entirety. The Commonwealth was granted a writ of certiorari.


Should the entire audio portion of the videotape have been suppressed in accordance with the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment?




The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the superior court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court noted that the Miranda requirement afforded protection against self-incrimination to persons under custodial interrogation. The Court distinguished between testimonial and real or physical evidence when invoking the privilege. The Court held that a field sobriety test or taking a blood sample constituted real or physical evidence; whereas requiring Muniz to respond to specific questions was testimonial. Muniz's Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the admission of that part of the videotape in which he responded to the question as to the date of his sixth birthday, but not by the admission of the parts of the videotape in which he performed the sobriety tests and refused to submit to the breathalyzer test. Thus, the superior court erred by suppressing the entire videotape.

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