Wainwright v. Greenfield
Decided on Jan. 14, 1986; 474 US 284

14th Amendment case involving an insanity plea and Miranda warnings


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (procedure), 14th Amendment, due process

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the use of a defendant's silence against him violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed in Doyle v. Ohio?

A. Background:

Respondent David Greenfield was arrested for sexual battery, and after the arrest he was given three separate Miranda warnings. Throughout the interrogation, he exercised his right to remain silent and requested to speak with an attorney before answering questions. Later, respondent pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. During closing arguments in trial court, the prosecutor reviewed the police officer's testimony, describing the occasions when respondent had exercised his right to remain silent. The prosecutor stated that respondent's repeated refusals to answer questions without first consulting an attorney "demonstrated a degree of comprehension that was inconsistent with his claim of insanity." Mr. Greenfield was subsequently convicted, and he appealed his case to the Florida Court of Appeal.

The Florida Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction, holding that the rule preventing a prosecutor from commenting on a defendant's exercise of his right to remain silent did not apply to a case in which an insanity plea was filed. Mr. Greenfield then unsuccessfully sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court by suing the Florida Department of Corrections and its secretary, Louie L. Wainwright (petitioner). The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the Federal District Court's decision to reject his habeas corpus claim, holding that respondent was entitled to a new trial under the reasoning of Doyle v. Ohio, which ruled that it is fundamentally unfair for prosecutors to comment on a defendant's silence invoked as the result of a Miranda warning.

On appeal by petitioner, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the lower courts' dispute.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
James D. Whittemore, by appointment of the Court argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.
Ann Garrison Paschall, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for petitioner. With her on the briefs was Jim Smith, Attorney General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by Charles S. Sims and Jack D. Novik; and for the Illinois Psychological Association by Donald Paull and Marilyn Martin. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Petitioner.

"[W]e have consistently explained Doyle as a case where the government had induced silence by implicitly assuring the defendant that his silence would not be used against him...

[W]e explained that use of silence for impeachment was fundamentally unfair in Doyle because 'Miranda warnings inform a person of his right to remain silent and assure him, at least implicitly, that his silence will not be used against him...' Doyle bars the use against a criminal defendant of silence maintained after receipt of governmental assurances.

We find no warrant for the claimed distinction in the reasoning of Doyle and of subsequent cases. The point of the Doyle holding is that it is fundamentally unfair to promise an arrested person that his silence will not be used against him and thereafter to breach that promise by using the silence to impeach his trial testimony. It is equally unfair to breach that promise by using silence to overcome a defendant's plea of insanity. In both situations, the State gives warnings to protect constitutional rights and implicitly promises that any exercise of those rights will not be penalized. In both situations, the State then seeks to make use of the defendant's exercise of those rights in obtaining his conviction. The implicit promise, the breach, and the consequent penalty are identical in both situations...

The Attorney General's argument about the probative value of silence therefore fails entirely to meet the problem of fundamental unfairness that flows from the State's breach of its implied assurances...

In Doyle, we held that Miranda warnings contain an implied promise, rooted in the Constitution, that 'silence will carry no penalty.' Our conclusion that it was fundamentally unfair for the Ohio prosecutor to breach that promise by using the defendants' postarrest, post-Miranda warnings silence to impeach their trial testimony requires us also to conclude that it was fundamentally unfair for the Florida prosecutor to breach the officers' promise to respondent by using his postarrest, post-Miranda warnings silence as evidence of his sanity...

The judgment of the Court of Appeals [for the 11th Circuit] is affirmed. It is so ordered."
Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Stevens J. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion )
  • O’Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Burger, W. Pro (Joined concurring opinion)

The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.