James J. Duane
Regent University – School of Law
Stanford Journal of Criminal Law and Policy, Vol. 3, p. 1, 2015
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Griffin v. California, 380 U.S. 609 (1965), which forbids the drawing of adverse inferences from a criminal defendant’s decision to exercise his Fifth Amendment privilege at trial because that would unfairly penalize the defendant for exercising a constitutional privilege. But the decision did not immediately answer a host of obvious questions as to how far its logic should extend to other arguably analogous situations, such as defendants who exercise the privilege during pretrial interrogation, at a civil trial, or at sentencing. Only seven years later, the Federal Rules of Evidence Advisory Committee drafted and approved a proposed evidence rule that would have extended Griffin essentially without limitation, but the rule was rejected by Congress, which left the matter to be worked out by the courts.
This Essay examines how the law was taken in one direction by the Supreme Court for the first decade after Griffin, and how those early precedents were severely cut back over the next four decades after conservatives took control of the Court and started limiting those earlier rulings, often by announcing unprincipled distinctions that were the only possible way to get around those precedents. The Essay shows how the Court’s overt hostility toward those precedents has precisely mirrored the sort of judicial reasoning that Justice Scalia once mockingly compared to judges who see themselves and previous members of the Court as contestants in a game of Scrabble or football — and how this process has created a body of legal doctrine that it is utterly chaotic and unprincipled.