GREER V. MILLER, 483 U. S. 756 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Greer v. Miller, 483 U.S. 756 (1987)

Greer v. Miller

No. 85-2064

Argued April 27, 1987

Decided June 26, 1987

483 U.S. 756


Respondent and two other men (including Randy Williams) were charged with kidnaping, robbery, and murder. Williams entered into a plea agreement and testified at respondent's separate Illinois Court trial that each of the men participated in the crime and that each shot the victim. Respondent testified on direct examination that he had taken no part in the crime, but that the other men had come to him after the murder was committed, seeking his advice. At the beginning of respondent's cross-examination, the prosecutor asked him: "Why didn't you tell this story to anybody when you got arrested?" Defense counsel immediately objected and, out of the jury's hearing, requested a mistrial on the ground that the prosecutor's question violated respondent s right to remain silent after arrest. The judge denied the motion, but immediately sustained the objection and instructed the jury to "ignore [the] question, for the time being." The prosecutor did not pursue the issue further, nor did he mention it during his closing argument. The judge's instructions to the jury included a caution to "disregard questions . . . to which objections were sustained." Respondent was convicted, but the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction. The court rejected the state's argument that, if the prosecutor's question about respondent's post-arrest silence was prohibited by Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U. S. 610, the error was harmless under the standards of Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, holding that the prosecutor's improper question did not require reversal of the conviction under the circumstances of this case. Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in the Federal District Court, which denied the petition. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that, because respondent had received Miranda warnings at the time of his arrest, the prosecutor's question violated respondent's constitutional right to a fair trial. The court further held that the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman.

Held: The prosecutor's question concerning respondent's post-arrest silence does not require reversal of the conviction. Pp. 483 U. S. 761-767.

(a) No Doyle violation occurred in this case. Doyle held that permitting the use for impeachment purposes of a defendant's silence at the time of arrest and after receiving Miranda warnings, which contain

Page 483 U. S. 757

an implicit assurance that silence will carry no penalty, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Here, respondent received the "implicit assurance" of Miranda warnings. However, the trial court did not permit the inquiry that Doyle forbids. Instead, the court explicitly sustained an objection to the only question that touched upon respondent's post-arrest silence. No further questioning or argument with respect to his silence occurred, and the court specifically advised the jury that it should disregard any questions to which an objection was sustained. The prosecutor was not allowed to undertake impeachment on, or permitted to call attention to, respondent's silence. Pp. 483 U. S. 761-765.

(b) The prosecutor's misconduct in attempting to violate the rule of Doyle did not so infect the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process. The Illinois Supreme Court's finding, under Chapman, that the prosecutor's question was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt indicates that it would find no due process violation under the facts here. The sequence of events -- a single question, an immediate objection, and two curative instructions -- clearly indicates that the prosecutor's improper question did not violate respondent's due process rights. Moreover, the Illinois Supreme Court's determination that the properly admitted evidence was sufficient to prove respondent's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt further supports the conclusion that there was no due process violation. Pp. 483 U. S. 765-767.

789 F.2d 438, reversed and remanded.

Page 483 U. S. 758

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 483 U. S. 767. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 483 U. S. 769.

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