The California Supreme Court has ruled that the silence of suspects can be used against them.
Wading into a legally tangled vehicular manslaughter case, a sharply divided high court on Thursday effectively reinstated the felony conviction of a man accused in a 2007 San Francisco Bay Area crash that left an 8-year-old girl dead and her sister and mother injured.
Richard Tom was sentenced to seven years in prison for manslaughter after authorities said he was speeding and slammed into another vehicle at a Redwood City intersection.
Prosecutors repeatedly told jurors during the trial that Tom's failure to ask about the victims immediately after the crash but before police read him his so-called Miranda rights showed his guilt.
Legal analysts said the ruling could affect future cases, allowing prosecutors to exploit a suspect's refusal to talk before invoking 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"It's a bad and questionable decision," said Dennis Fischer, a longtime criminal appellate lawyer.
Tom's attorney Marc Zilversmit said he is deciding whether to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue or renew his arguments in the state court of appeal.
"It's a very dangerous ruling," Zilversmit said. "If you say anything to the police, that can be used against you. Now, if you don't say anything before you are warned of your rights, that too can be used against you."