SCOTUS Limits Extent of Miranda Rights for Criminals

The Supreme Court loosened the enforcement of Miranda rights for those convicted of crimes this week. They ruled that suspects who are not warned about their right to remain silent can’t sue a police officer for damages now under federal civil rights law. This will be true even if the evidence found is used against them in their trial. 

This decision will decrease a person’s protection against self-incrimination by keeping the criminal from seeking damages. But the ruling also means that when an officer fails to give the Miranda warning, it will not cause the officer to face potential damages in a civil lawsuit. And it will not impact whether or not the evidence can be used in a criminal trial. 

What the court was basically saying is that the Miranda warning protects a constitutional right, but the warning itself is not a right.

Steve Vladeck, a Supreme Court analyst for CNN and a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said, “Today’s ruling doesn’t get rid of the Miranda right. But it does make it far harder to enforce. Under this ruling, the only remedy for a violation of Miranda is to suppress statements obtained from a suspect who’s not properly advised of his right to remain silent.”

There were six Republican-appointed justices, including Justice Samuel Alito, who ruled that a violation of the Miranda right “is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment. We see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue.”

The specific case the High Court heard focused on Terence Tekoh. He was a hospital worker who was accused of sexually assaulting a female patent who was immobilized in 2014.

The issue was whether or not a defendant must be read his Miranda rights and whether he can sue the police for damages if he did not receive the Miranda warning and evidence was used against him in the criminal proceeding. 

Deputy Sued by Criminal Wins Case

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, Carlos Vega, questioned Tekoh but did not read him his rights as was required by the 1966 precedent in Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the court held that a defendant has to be warned of a “right to remain silent.”

From that case forward, if the Miranda warning was not given, courts are not allowed to use any evidence found or any self-incriminating statements made while the defendant is being held in custody. 

Tekoh confessed to the crime and was tried but acquitted even after the confession was made public at his trial. He sued the officer under federal law, Section 1983. It allows lawsuits for damages against a government official for violating a person’s constitutional rights. 

It was Vega’s lawyer Roman Martinez that argued that Tekoh could not bring his claim because establishing a violation of Miranda does not establish a violation of the Fifth Amendment. 

Martinez praised the court’s ruling and said it “confirms that Deputy Vega cannot be sued for his good-faith effort to investigate the alleged sexual assault of a defenseless hospital patient.”

Looks like the Supreme Court got it right again.