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Ninth Circuit Announces Un-Mirandized Statement Used in Criminal Proceeding Violates Fifth Amendment and Supports § 1983 Claim

Terence Tekoh gave a written statement to Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega implicating himself in a sexual assault. However, Tekoh alleged that Vega failed to read him the warnings of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Vega disputed Tekoh’s account and said Tekoh voluntarily wrote the statement. Vega used the incriminating statement to arrest Tekoh on a charge of Sexual Penetration by Foreign Object. The statement was used at Tekoh’s trial where he was acquitted.

Tekoh filed suit under § 1983, seeking damages against Vega for violating his Fifth Amendment rights. Because the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California concluded it had given an incorrect instruction at the first civil trial of Tekoh’s claim, a second trial was held where Tekoh requested the jury be instructed to find in his favor if it determined that Tekoh was “in custody” when he gave the statement; that Vega failed to give him a Miranda warning; and that the statement was used against Tekoh in a criminal proceeding.

The district court, relying on Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003), determined that Miranda was merely a “prophylactic rule,” and Tekoh couldn’t use the rule to “create a constitutional right.” Based on that reasoning, the district court refused Tekoh’s requested instruction. Instead, the court instructed the jury to evaluate the claim as a coerced confession under the Fifth Amendment. A verdict was returned in Vega’s favor, and Tekoh appealed, arguing that the district court should have given his requested instruction.

The Ninth Circuit observed “[u]nder 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may bring suit for damages against a state official who deprives him of ‘any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.’” Resolution of the appeal turned on whether a violation of Miranda is a constitutional violation. The Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. The U.S. Supreme Court implemented this guarantee by setting forth “concrete constitutional guidelines” for officers to follow when conducting custodial interrogations, viz., advising the suspect “that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either appointed or retained.” Miranda. Failure to provide the Miranda warnings will generally require the exclusion of statements obtained. Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). Miranda is a “constitutional decision,” so Congress cannot overrule it. Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

In United States v. Patane, 542 U.S. 630 (2004), the Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment doesn’t require suppression of physical evidence that was obtained as a result of an interrogation that violates Miranda. Justice Thomas, writing a plurality opinion for four justices, also opined that the Miranda rule “swe[pt] beyond the actual protections of the Self-Incrimination Clause” and concluded that the failure to give Miranda warnings is a constitutional violation only when unwarned statements were admitted at trial, at which point the exclusion of the statements would be a “complete and sufficient remedy.” Justices Kennedy and O’Connor did not join Thomas’ discussion regarding the broad sweep of Miranda but instead concurred only that suppression of physical evidence is not required by the Fifth Amendment.

In Chavez, the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff could not sue an officer who violated Miranda where the plaintiff was never charged with any crime. Again, Justice Thomas wrote a plurality opinion on behalf of himself and three other justices wherein he again opined that a violation of Miranda, by itself, isn’t a violation of the Self-Incrimination Clause.

The district court in the instant case relied on Chavez for the proposition that a § 1983 claim can never be grounded on a Miranda violation. But the Ninth Circuit determined the district court erred because both Patane and Chavez were fractured Supreme Court decisions. A fractured decision “only bind[s] the federal courts of appeal when a majority of the Justices agree upon a single underlying rationale and one opinion can reasonably be described as a logical subset of the other. When no single rationale commands a majority of the Court, only the specific result is binding on the lower federal courts.” United States v. Davis, 825 F.3d 1014 (9th Cir. 2016) (interpreting Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977).

Applying Davis to Patane meant only the holding that the Fifth Amendment doesn’t require suppression of physical evidence is binding. And applying Davis in relation to Chavez, the court was bound only by the holding that a Miranda violation won’t support a § 1983 claim when no criminal proceedings were instituted.

The Ninth Circuit had previously held a plaintiff may assert a Fifth Amendment violation against an officer who interrogated him and then included the coerced statements in the police report. Stout v. City of Everett, 582 F.3d 910 (9th Cir. 2009). This is because government officials, like other defendants, are responsible for the natural or reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions. Id. An officer who elicits incriminating statements from a suspect can reasonably foresee those statements will be used against the suspect in a criminal case. Id.

The Court explained that while Stouts doesn’t require the statement be used at a criminal trial, there is no question that in the instant case Vega was responsible for the statement being used at trial since he arrested and charged Tekoh based on the statement. The Court further concluded that based on Dickerson, a violation of Miranda is a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and a showing that the statement was coerced is not required. Thus, Tekoh is required to prove only that he was in custody when he gave the statement; that Vega failed to Mirandize him; and that Vega instituted criminal proceedings against him based on the statement. Consequently, the district court erred by refusing to give Tekoh’s requested instruction.

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Related legal case

Tekoh v. County of Los Angeles

 

 

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