In a recent opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in which held that the “use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a § 1983 claim” against the officer who obtained the statement. The 6-3 majority found that Miranda does not extend to claims made under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
This matter stems from a March 2014 custodial interrogation of Terrance Tekoh. At that time, Tekoh was working as a certified nursing assistant at a Los Angeles medical center. When a female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her, the hospital staff reported the accusation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Deputy Carlos 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. Pertinent to the issue at the center of this case, it was undisputed that Deputy Vega never informed Tekoh of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966) during his questioning.
Tekoh was subsequently arrested and charged in California state court with unlawful sexual penetration. At Tekoh’s criminal trial, the government introduced his un-Mirandized written statement. This trial resulted in an acquittal, and Tekoh thereafter brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Vega and several other defendants seeking damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, including his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Tekoh, holding that the government’s use of the un-Mirandized statement provided a basis upon which Tekoh could seek civil damages under Section 1983.
A Miranda violation does not provide a basis for a Section 1983 claim
The Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s holding that the use of a un-Mirandized statement provided a basis upon which an individual could seek civil damages under Section 1983. The Majority opinion, which was written by Justice Samuel Alito, prefaced its reasoning with the statement that “[i]f a Miranda violation were tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment, our answer would of course be different.” The majority thereafter reasoned that “[a]t no point in the [Miranda] opinion did the Court state that a violation of its new rules constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.” Additionally, the Court found that none of its post-Miranda decisions characterize it as anything other than a Fifth Amendment safeguard, i.e., an additional procedural protection that served the prophylactic function of safeguarding “that right during custodial interrogation.” Therefore, per the majority, Miranda and its rules are distinguishable from a constitutional right and a violation thereof is not tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Given the distinction found between Miranda and the Fifth Amendment, the majority held that a Plaintiff could not bring a lawsuit under Section 1983 based upon the allegation of deprivation of constitutional rights for a Miranda violation. It concluded that “except in unusual circumstances, the ‘exclusion of unwarned statements’ should be ‘a complete and sufficient remedy.’”
Justice Kagan, writing a dissenting opinion which was joined by Justices Sotomayor and Breyer, provided that the majority fails to give redress to individuals whose rights were violated by the police under Miranda. The dissent heavily relies on the case Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), to argue that Miranda did, in fact, confer a constitutional right and that, therefore, violations thereof could for the basis for a Section 1983 action. Justice Kagan also lamented the consequences for certain criminal defendants who have had their constitutional rights violated who could now no longer seek redress under Section 1983, “a vital component of any scheme for vindicating cherished constitutional guarantees.”
While Miranda warnings are still required to protect an individual’s Fifth Amendment right, the Court has made clear that it is not willing to extend Miranda’s protections in any substantive way. The protections afforded by Miranda focus upon the suppression of un-Mirandized confessions and may not be used as a basis for civil remedies pursuant to Section 1983. More broadly, this case is further demonstration that the Supreme Court, as it is currently constituted, is not interested in expanding additional remedies for constitutional violations that Congress itself did not fashion. However, nothing in this decision precludes Congress from doing so in response. Regardless, law enforcement officers must be diligent in providing Miranda warnings to avoid situations such as in Vega.