US Supreme Court: No Right to Sue for a Miranda Violation
June 24, 2022- Posted by Larry E. Holtz, Esq.
In Vega v. Tekoh, (2022), the United States Supreme Court addressed the question whether an individual may sue a police officer under 42 U.S.C. §1983, based on the allegedly improper admission of an “un-Mirandized” statement in a criminal prosecution. Although the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the use of Tekoh’s un-Mirandized statement provided a valid basis for a §1983 claim against Vega, the Supreme Court rejected that extension of the Miranda case law.
The facts of the case unfolded at the Los Angeles medical center where Terence Tekoh was working as a certified nursing assistant. When a female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her, the hospital staff reported the accusation to the County Sheriff’s Department, and Deputy Vega responded. “Vega questioned Tekoh at length in the hospital, and Tekoh eventually provided a written statement apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.” It was undisputed that Vega never informed Tekoh of his Miranda rights.
Tekoh was arrested and charged in California state court with unlawful sexual penetration, and his confession was admitted into evidence. When the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Tekoh sued Vega under §1983 for the alleged violation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.
Disagreeing with the Ninth Circuit and Tekoh, the United States Supreme Court held that a violation of the Miranda rule does not provide a basis for a lawsuit under §1983. In this regard, the Court reminded that a Miranda violation is not tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Miranda itself and subsequent cases “make clear that Miranda imposed a set of prophylactic rules. Those rules, to be sure, are ‘constitutionally based,’ … but they are prophylactic rules nonetheless.” (quoting Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 440 (2000)).
"Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a Fifth Amendment violation, and it is difficult to see how it could have held otherwise. For one thing, it is easy to imagine many situations in which an un-Mirandized suspect in custody may make self-incriminating statements without any hint of compulsion. In addition, the warnings that the Court required included components, such as notification of the right to have retained or appointed counsel present during questioning, that do not concern self-incrimination per se but are instead plainly designed to safeguard that right. And the same is true of Miranda’s detailed rules about the waiver of the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. …"
Accordingly, “a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution, and therefore such a violation does not constitute ‘the deprivation of [a] right … secured by the Constitution,’ ”as contemplated by 42 U.S.C. §1983." Said the Court:
"Miranda, Dickerson, and the other cases in that line provide sufficient protection for the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. The identification of a Miranda violation and its consequences … ought to be determined at trial. … And except in unusual circumstances, the “exclusion of unwarned statements” should be “a complete and sufficient remedy.”
Because a violation of Miranda is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and because we see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue under §1983, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded.