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Supreme Court to consider if silence can be evidence of guilt

(Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider whether a suspect's refusal to answer police questions prior to being arrested and read his rights can be introduced as evidence of guilt at his subsequent murder trial.

Without comment, the court agreed to hear the appeal of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the December 1992 deaths of two brothers in Houston.

Salinas voluntarily answered police questions for about an hour, but he became silent when asked whether shotgun shells found at the crime scene would match a gun found at his home. An officer testified that Salinas demonstrated signs of deception.

Ballistics testing later matched the gun to the casings left at the murder scene.

Salinas was charged in 1993 but evaded arrest until his capture in 2007.

His first trial ended in a mistrial. At his second trial, Texas was able to introduce evidence of his silence in the police station, over his lawyer's objections.

Salinas' lawyer argued that his client deserved a Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, even though he had not been under arrest or read his rights under the landmark 1966 decision Miranda v. Arizona.

Last April, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction but noted that federal appeals courts are split as to whether "pre-arrest, pre-Miranda silence is admissible as substantive evidence of guilt."

Texas opposed the appeal, saying that the protection against compulsory self-incrimination is irrelevant when a suspect is under no compulsion to speak, as Salinas was because he was not under arrest and was speaking voluntarily. It also said that any error was harmless.

A decision is expected by the end of June.

The decision is Salinas v. Texas, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-246.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Eric Beech)

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