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U.S. Supreme Court
SOUTH DAKOTA v. NEVILLE 522 U.S. 136 (1997)

  1. Relying on Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610 (1976), respondent also suggests that admission at trial of his refusal violates the Due Process Clause because respondent was not fully warned of the consequences of refusal. Doyle held that the Due Process Clause forbids a prosecutor from using a defendant's silence after Miranda warnings to impeach his testimony at trial. Just a Term before, in United States v. Hale, 422 U.S. 171 (1975), we had determined under our supervisory power that the federal courts could not use such silence for impeachment because of its dubious probative value. Although Doyle mentioned this rationale in applying the rule to the states, 426 U.S., at 617, the Court relied on the fundamental unfairness of implicitly assuring a suspect that his silence will not be used against him and then using his silence to impeach an explanation subsequently offered at trial. Id., at 618.

    Unlike the situation in Doyle, we do not think it fundamentally unfair for South Dakota to use the refusal to take the test as evidence of guilt, even though respondent was not specifically warned that his refusal could be used against him at trial. First, the right to silence underlying the Miranda warnings is one of constitutional dimension, and thus cannot be unduly burdened. See Miranda, 384 U.S., at 468, n. 37. Cf. Fletcher v. Weir, 455 U.S. 603 (1982) (post-arrest silence without Miranda warnings may be used to impeach trial testimony). Respondent's right to refuse the blood-alcohol test, by contrast, is simply a matter of grace bestowed by the South Dakota legislature.

    Moreover, the Miranda warnings emphasize the dangers of choosing to speak ("whatever you say can and will be used as evidence against you in court"), but give no warning of adverse consequences from choosing to remain silent. This imbalance in the delivery of Miranda warnings, we recognized in Doyle, implicitly assures the suspect that his silence will not be used against him. The warnings challenged here, by contrast, contained no such misleading implicit assurances as to the relative consequences of his choice. The officers explained that, if respondent chose to submit to the test, he had the right to know the results and could choose to take an additional test by a person chosen by him. The officers did not specifically warn respondent that the test results could be used against him at trial. Explaining the consequences of the other option, the officers specifically warned respondent that failure to take the test could lead to loss of driving privileges for one year. It is true the officers did not inform respondent of the further consequence that evidence of refusal could be used against him in court, but we think it unrealistic to say that the warnings given here implicitly assure a suspect that no consequences other than those mentioned will occur. Importantly, the warning that he could lose his driver's license made it clear that refusing the test was not a "safe harbor," free of adverse consequences.

    Even though the officers did not specifically advise respondent that the test results could be used against him in court, no one would seriously contend that this failure to warn would make the test results inadmissible, had respondent chosen to submit to the test. Cf. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1972) (knowledge of right to refuse not an essential part of proving effective consent to a search).

    Since the State wants the suspect to submit to the test, it is in its interest fully to warn suspects of the consequences of refusal. We are informed that police officers in South Dakota now warn suspects that evidence of their refusal can be used against them in court.

    While the State did not actually warn respondent that the test results could be used against him, we hold that such a failure to warn was not the sort of implicit promise to forego use of evidence that would unfairly "trick" respondent if the evidence were later offered against him at trial. We therefore conclude that the use of evidence of refusal after these warnings comported with the fundamental fairness required by Due Process.
  2. The judgment of the South Dakota Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

 

It is so ordered.