Supreme Court To Citizens: Miranda Rights Aren’t Actually Rights So No More Suing About Them
from the just-because-your-rights-were-violated-is-no-reason-to-su dept
The “Miranda rights” established by the Supreme Court in 1966 are a little less guaranteed going forward. The Supreme Court has issued an opinion [PDF] that limits what citizens whose rights have been violated can do — limiting them to exercising these rights during criminal trials as a component of their Fifth Amendment rights.
The Miranda warning mandated by the Supreme Court is supposed to prevent arrestees from being deprived of legal representation during questioning or exercising their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Any statements made in lieu of the reading of these rights (and the affirmative waiving of these rights by arrestees) are supposed to render statements made without warning/respect for these rights unusable in court.
Many times this isn’t the case. The un-Mirandized statements survive dismissal attempts and result in people being convicted despite their rights being violated. When consequent challenges (at the appellate level, etc.) reveal the statements were made without respect or notification of these rights, citizens have usually been able to file civil rights lawsuits alleging violations of their Fifth Amendment rights under the Miranda decision.
That is no longer the case. The Supreme Court (in a ideologically split 6-3 decision) has declared suing over violated Miranda rights is no longer an option. Here’s the ACLU’s summary of the decision:
Today, in Vega v. Tekoh, the court backtracked substantially on its Miranda promise. In Vega, the court held 6-3 (over an excellent dissent by Justice Elena Kagan) that an individual who is denied Miranda warnings and whose compelled statements are introduced against them in a criminal trial cannot sue the police officer who violated their rights, even where a criminal jury finds them not guilty of any crime. By denying people whose rights are violated the ability to seek redress under our country’s most important civil rights statute, the court has further widened the gap between the guarantees found in the Bill of Rights and the people’s ability to hold government officials accountable for violating them.
The Supreme Court says the Miranda ruling was nothing more than something meant to encourage law enforcement officers to respect Fifth Amendment rights. Even if they fail to do so, it doesn’t mean they should be sued for rights violations.
In Miranda, the Court concluded that additional procedural protections were necessary to prevent the violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when suspects who are in custody are interrogated by the police. Miranda imposed a set of prophylactic rules requiring that custodial interrogation be preceded by now-familiar warnings and disallowing the use of statements obtained in violation of these new rules by the prosecution in its case-in-chief. Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a Fifth Amendment violation. That makes sense, as an un-Mirandized suspect in custody may make self-incriminating statements without any hint of compulsion.
Maybe so. But that’s the entire point of the Miranda ruling. Law enforcement is supposed to make people aware of their rights so they don’t make self-incriminating statements under the mistaken belief they have no other option but to start talking while in police custody. The “prophylactic” is supposed to shield people from law enforcement abuse of their rights, but this decision encourages abuse by limiting the possible negative outcomes of Miranda rights violations.
This is something law enforcement already routinely abuses. Cops will question people in their homes, cars, driveways, places of work — all under the legal assumption that a person surrounded by officers (but not actually locked in an interrogation room) is somehow “free to go.” Even when they do Mirandize people, they do everything they can to subvert these rights to avoid having to deal with lawyers or arrestees who now realize they don’t have to say a damn thing while being questioned.
This decision means some rights are more equal than others. You can still file a Section 1983 lawsuit against officers for violating other rights (Fourth, First, Eighth, and Fourteenth are the most common) but you can’t sue under certain elements of the Fifth Amendment.
The facts of the case undercut this conclusion. Here’s a very concise summary of the events leading to this lawsuit, which started when law enforcement arrested Terence Tekoh for allegedly sexually assaulting an immobilized female patient at a Los Angeles hospital:
Carlos Vega, a Los Angeles County sheriff deputy, questioned Tekoh, although he failed to read him his rights as required by the 1966 precedent of Miranda v. Arizona, where the court held that a defendant must be warned of a “right to remain silent.” Under that precedent, without the Miranda warning, criminal trial courts are generally barred from admitting self-incriminating statements made while the defendant was in custody.
Tekoh ultimately confessed to the crime, was tried and acquitted — even after the introduction of his confession at trial.
This decision limits the remedy for Miranda violations to the suppression of evidence during trials — something that did not happen here. The prosecution was able to convince the trial court Tekoh’s statements were voluntary, even if the officers never informed Tekoh of his rights.
The dissent (written by Elena Kagan) points out the majority is overriding its own precedent and claiming there’s no inherent rights violations in interrogating someone who hasn’t been informed of their rights. The Supreme Court now pretends Miranda rights are not constitutional rights, despite stating otherwise several times.
Begin with whether Miranda is “secured by the Constitution.” We know that it is, because the Court’s decision in Dickerson says so. Dickerson tells us again and again that Miranda is a “constitutional rule.” 530 U. S., at 444. It is a “constitutional decision” that sets forth “‘concrete constitutional guidelines.’” Id., at 432, 435 (quoting Miranda, 384 U. S., at 442). Miranda “is constitutionally based”; or again, it has a “constitutional basis.” 530 U. S., at 439, n. 3, 440. It is “of constitutional origin”; it has “constitutional underpinnings.” Id., at 439, n. 3, 440, n. 5. And—one more—Miranda sets a “constitutional minimum.” 530 U. S., at 442. Over and over, Dickerson labels Miranda a rule stemming from the Constitution.
But not anymore, the majority has unilaterally declared. Now it’s just a “prophylactic” meant to protect people from rights abuses. When it fails to do so, the Supreme Court says there’s no rights violation, which means no one can sue over these specific violations. The Fifth Amendment isn’t stricken from the litigation books, but it is damaged by the court’s decision to make Miranda rights violations exempt from civil rights lawsuits.
Today, the Court strips individuals of the ability to seek a remedy for violations of the right recognized in Miranda. The majority observes that defendants may still seek “the suppression at trial of statements obtained” in violation of Miranda’s procedures. Ante, at 14–15. But sometimes, such a statement will not be suppressed. And sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongly convicted and spend years in prison. He may succeed, on appeal or in habeas, in getting the conviction reversed. But then, what remedy does he have for all the harm he has suffered? The point of §1983 is to provide such redress—because a remedy “is a vital component of any scheme for vindicating cherished constitutional guarantees.” Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U. S. 635, 639 (1980). The majority here, as elsewhere, injures the right by denying the remedy.
The (occasional [it didn’t even happen in the case triggering this SCOTUS review!]) suppression of evidence may derail a few prosecutions. But it won’t do anything to encourage cops to ensure the people they question are apprised of their rights under the law. If anything, it will encourage officers to keep detainees and arrestees in the dark, knowing they can’t be directly sued for refusing them access to counsel or pretending these rights don’t exist to coerce people into confessions. The decision is pure cognitive dissonance: one that says un-Mirandized statements are a rights violation when submitted as evidence during trials but not a rights violation when the falsely accused/arrested/convicted bring lawsuits against officers.