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June 23, 2022

By 6-3 vote, SCOTUS rules Miranda violations cannot provide a basis for § 1983 suit

The Supreme Court this morning handed down a notable procedural ruling in the criminal justice space likely to be of interest to many. In Vega v. Tekoh, No. 21-499 (S. Ct. June 23, 2022) (available here), the Court on standard ideological lines limited federal legal remedies for violations of Miranda rights. The opinion is authored by Justice Alito and starts this way:

This case presents the question whether a plaintiff may sue a police officer under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on the allegedly improper admission of an “un-Mirandized” statement in a criminal prosecution.  The case arose out of the interrogation of respondent, Terence Tekoh, by petitioner, Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Deputy Carlos Vega. Deputy Vega questioned Tekoh at his place of employment and did not give him a Miranda warning.  Tekoh was prosecuted, and his confession was admitted into evidence, but the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.  Tekoh then sued Vega under § 1983, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the use of Tekoh’s un-Mirandized statement provided a valid basis for a §1983 claim against Vega.  We now reject this extension of our Miranda case law.

Justice Kagan authored the dissent, which was joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor.  It starts this way:

The Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), affords well-known protections to suspects who are interrogated by police while in custody. Those protections derive from the Constitution: Dickerson v. United States tells us in no uncertain terms that Miranda is a “constitutional rule.” 530 U.S. 428, 444 (2000). And that rule grants a corresponding right: If police fail to provide the Miranda warnings to a suspect before interrogating him, then he is generally entitled to have any resulting confession excluded from his trial.  See 384 U.S., at 478–479.  From those facts, only one conclusion can follow — that Miranda’s protections are a “right[]” “secured by the Constitution” under the federal civil rights statute. Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  Yet the Court today says otherwise. It holds that Miranda is not a constitutional right enforceable through a § 1983 suit.  And so it prevents individuals from obtaining any redress when police violate their rights under Miranda.  I respectfully dissent.

June 23, 2022 at 10:41 AM | Permalink


Given that Miranda created a Constitutional right, there is really only one reason that the Justices won't make it cognizable under section 1983. It's the floodgates argument. Police officers fail to Mirandize people thousands of times every week across America. The Supreme Court recognized that if section 1983 damages recoveries are permitted every time a police officer fails to give a required Miranda warning, there would be thousands of such lawsuits filed in Federal Courts every year. The Court is effectively finding the error harmless, since it may otherwise lead to the suppression of evidence. To the 6 majority Justices, that it sufficient.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jun 23, 2022 11:15:09 AM

Jim Gormley --

As the majority points out correctly and at great length, Miranda did NOT create a constitutional right. Even Dickerson only said the Miranda warnings were grounded in, not that they were a part of or required by, the Constitution. Thus, even on the bizarre assumption that a court can EVER just splice something in to the Constitution, that didn't happen in Miranda and it didn't happen in Dickerson. Miranda warnings are prophylactic measures to protect constitutional rights, but are not rights themselves.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 23, 2022 3:16:25 PM

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