Published on: Thursday, April 21, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court struggled during oral arguments Wednesday over whether its landmark Miranda ruling allows criminal suspects to file civil suits against police officers who don't warn them of their rights against self-incrimination (article available here).

The Miranda case required that a person in custody held for interrogation must be informed that they have the right to remain silent, consult with a lawyer, and have the lawyer with them during governmental interrogation. These specific and protective set of warnings that would ensure that criminally accused suspects were made aware of the Fifth Amendment’s decree that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  

The high court is considering the case of Terence B. Tekoh, a former nursing assistant charged with sexually assaulting a patient. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputy Carlos Vega responded to the scene to investigate the patient’s allegation. After interviewing the patient and on-duty nurses, he approached Tekoh. Vega and Tekoh retreated to a hospital MRI reading room. Approximately an hour later, Vega emerged from the room with the arrested Tekoh’s handwritten confession of the assault.

In January 2021, the Ninth Circuit allowed Tekoh — who was acquitted — to pursue civil damages against sheriff's deputy Carlos Vega for allegedly taking his confession without reading him the Miranda rights. The Ninth Circuit relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Dickerson v. United States, which held that Miranda is a constitutional rule that cannot be overruled by Congress. “[T]he right of a criminal defendant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced in the prosecution’s case in chief is indeed a right secured by the Constitution,” the Circuit concluded, making Vega’s failure to advise Tekoh actionable under Section 1983. 

Vega argues that Miranda governs admissibility of trial evidence only and that failure to give Miranda warnings does not create a Section 1983 claim.