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SCOTUS: § 1983 Claim Cannot Be Based on Violation of Miranda Because Not Tantamount to Violation of Fifth Amendment

by Harold Hempstead

The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) held that a violation of the warnings provided for in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), does not provide a basis for a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In March 2014, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega responded to the hospital where Terrance B. Tekoh worked as a certified nursing assistant and questioned him at length, without providing him a Miranda warning, about a female patient’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her.

Tekoh was arrested, charged, and tried in a California state court on one count of unlawful sexual penetration. His un-Mirandized statement to Vega was used at trial. His first trial resulted in a mistrial, and he was acquitted at his retrial.

Tekoh then filed a § 1983 complaint against Vega and other defendants, requesting damages for, among other claims, a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. Tekoh won a favorable jury verdict at his first trial, but the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that the jury was improperly instructed and granted a new trial. Prior to the second trial, Tekoh requested that the jury be instructed that they were required to find that a Fifth Amendment violation occurred if they determined that Vega took Tekoh’s statement in violation of Miranda and that statement was used against him during his criminal trial.

The District Court denied Tekoh’s requested jury instruction, stating that Miranda is a prophylactic rule and that a violation of the rule does not provide an independent basis for § 1983 liability.

At the second trial, the District Court instructed the jury that they were to determine “whether Tekoh’s statement had been ‘improperly coerced or compelled … ‘[by]’ a police officer us[ing] physical or psychological force or threats not permitted by law to undermine a person’s ability to exercise his or her free will.’” The jury delivered a favorable verdict for Vega, and Tekoh appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the District Court’s ruling and held that Tekoh could base a § 1983 claim for deprivation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination against Vega if Tekoh could show that Vega took a statement from him without Mirandizing him. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial and denied Vega’s request for rehearing en banc.

SCOTUS granted certiorari to answer the question of “whether a violation of the Miranda rules provides a basis for a claim under § 1983.”

At the outset of its discussion, the Court made it clear that a violation of Miranda doesn’t constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.

In Miranda, SCOTUS instructed that law enforcement is required to advise a suspect during a custodial interrogation that “he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning.”

The Court explained that Miranda and its progeny make it clear that the warnings prescribed in Miranda are “prophylactic.” Since Miranda’s publication, SCOTUS has never strayed from describing the Miranda rules as “prophylactic.” (See opinion for extensive list of cases.)

The Court stated that SCOTUS has issued several opinions placing limits on the prophylactic rules afforded under Miranda and that the Miranda warnings might not be required if Congress or the states adopt similar rules that are as effective as those articulated in Miranda. The Court explained that it “could not have said any of these things if a violation of the Miranda rules necessarily constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment.” (See opinion for extensive list of cases.) Thus, the Court held that a violation of Miranda is not tantamount to a Fifth Amendment violation, and consequently, a Miranda violation cannot serve as the basis for a § 1983 claim.

Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. See: Vega v. Tekoh, 142 S. Ct. 2095 (2022). 

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Related legal case

Vega v. Tekoh,

 

 

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