JENKINS V. ANDERSON, 447 U. S. 231 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980)

Jenkins v. Anderson

No. 78-6809

Argued January 8, 1980

Decided June 10, 1980

447 U.S. 231


At his trial in a Michigan state court for first-degree murder, petitioner testified that he acted in self-defense. On cross-examination, the prosecutor questioned petitioner about the fact that he was not apprehended until he surrendered to governmental authorities about two weeks after the killing, and, in closing argument, again referred to petitioner's prearrest silence, thereby attempting to impeach petitioner's credibility by suggesting that he would have spoken out if he had killed in self-defense. Petitioner was convicted of manslaughter, and, after his conviction was affirmed in the state courts, he sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, contending that his constitutional rights were violated when the prosecutor questioned him concerning prearrest silence. The District Court denied relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The Fifth Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, is not violated by the use of prearrest silence to impeach a criminal defendant's credibility. While the Fifth Amendment prevents the prosecution from commenting on the silence of a defendant who asserts the right to remain silent during his criminal trial, it is not violated when a defendant who testifies in his own defense is impeached with his prior silence. Impeachment follows the defendant's own decision to cast aside his cloak of silence and advances the truthfinding function of the criminal trial. Cf. Raffel v. United States, 271 U. S. 494; Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222; Brown v. United States, 356 U. S. 148. Pp. 447 U. S. 235-238.

2. Nor does the use of prearrest silence to impeach a defendant's credibility deny him the fundamental fairness guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Common law traditionally has allowed witnesses to be impeached by their previous failure to state a fact in circumstances in which that fact naturally would have been asserted. And each jurisdiction may formulate its own rules of evidence to determine when prior silence is so inconsistent with present statements that impeachment by reference to such silence is probative. In this case, in which no governmental action induced petitioner to remain silent before arrest, Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U. S. 610, is inapplicable. Pp. 447 U. S. 238-240.

Page 447 U. S. 232

3. A state court is not required to allow impeachment through the use of prearrest silence. Each jurisdiction is free to formulate evidentiary rules defining the situations in which silence is viewed a more probative than prejudicial. Pp. 447 U. S. 240-241.

599 F.2d 1055, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined; and in all but Part II of which STEWART, J., joined. STEWART, J., filed a statement concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 447 U. S. 241. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in Part I of which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 241. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 245.

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