Submission by Robin Yeamans
The US Supreme Court recently ruled that in order to assert your right to remain silent, you must speak up and say you invoke the Fifth Amendment. In Salinas v. Texas, Mr. Salinas answered officers’ questions for an hour but became silent when police questioned him about shotgun shells found at the crime scene. At trial the prosecutor used Salinas’ silence to persuade the jury he was guilty, and he was convicted of murder.
Justice Alito stated in the Court’s ruling that the defendant’s “Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self incrimination in response to the officer’s question.”
Justice Breyer, writing a minority opinion disagreed, pointing out, “But does it really mean that the suspect must use the exact words ‘Fifth Amendment’? How can an individual who is not a lawyer know that these particular words are legally magic?”
A public defender from San Francisco pointed out: “This ruling will hurt our most vulnerable citizens: the mentally ill, those with language barriers, people with little education and those who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their questioning.”
The US Supreme Court, so careful to protect corporations’ supposed rights, are destroying the rights of others, literally ripping up years of precedent.
In 1968, George Whitmore, Jr. was beaten by New York police and coerced to signing a 61 page confession that he murdered two women. He contended that he was somewhere else that day — watching Martin Luther King Jr’s historic civil rights speech and had witnesses who could attest to him. Nevertheless, he was convicted for these murders. Steadfast to his innocence — and supported by lawyers, advocates, and civil rights activists — his conviction was overturned 9 years later. And his case was pivotal to the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling to protect alleged suspects and to the partial repeal of capital punishment in New York City.
While he is 3,000 miles away from Santa Clara County, the impact of his resolve to maintain his innocence reverbrates here. At ACJP, we’ve seen youth as young as 15 forced to make confessions to crimes they didn’t commit. But because of cases like Mr. Whitmore Jr, people can still be protected. This particular editorial talks about the emotional toll the system can take on you and the personal fall-out of the struggle for justice. It is this silent and sad struggle that is rarely documented. To the question the writer posed on “Who Will Mourn George Whitmore Jr”, we resoundingly answer — we will, and we will honor his sacrifice as we hold our systems accountable. Submitted by Charisse Domingo
Who Will Mourn George Whitmore?
By T. J. ENGLISH
Photo by Tom Cunningham/NY Daily News, via Getty Images
New York Times
Published: October 12, 2012
I received news this week of the death of George Whitmore Jr., an occurrence noted, apparently, by no one in the public arena. That Whitmore could die without a single mention in the media is a commentary on a city and nation that would rather bury and forget the difficult aspects of our shared history.
Forty-eight years ago, as a New York City teenager, Whitmore was initiated into an ordeal at the hands of a racist criminal justice system. For a time, his story rattled the news cycle. He was chewed up and spit out: an ill-prepared kid vilified as a murderer, then championed as an emblem of injustice and, finally, cast aside. That he survived his tribulations and lived to the age of 68 was a miracle.