April 15, 2024

On June 23rd this year, the supreme court ruled that law enforcement officers who fail to read suspects’ Miranda rights will not be subject to civil prosecution for their omission.

According to the ruling determined by a 6-3 vote, police officers can no longer be penalized for failing to read Miranda rights to a suspect during an arrest.

This ruling comes at a time when the supreme court is viewed by many as taking a conservative approach to many issues, which has elicited quite strong emotions among human rights advocacy groups. 

What Are Miranda Rights?

Miranda rights are a spoken warning issued to a suspect while in custody informing them of their rights to silence and rights to legal representation even when they can’t afford one. Miranda rights protect an accused from self-incrimination during their case.

After an arrest, the police may or may not read a suspect their Miranda rights. But for a suspect’s statement to be admissible in court, the interrogating officer must read Miranda rights to the suspect. If the suspect allows the interrogation after being read their Miranda rights, anything they say is admissible in court as evidence. 

If suspects invoke their right to silence, the police cannot interrogate them further. Any continued interrogation will violate the suspect’s rights, making their statements inadmissible. 

Where It All Began

In 2014, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega allegedly arrested a California medical worker named Terrence Tekoh. The deputy failed to provide Tekoh with his Miranda rights,

According to Tekoh, Vega later denied his request to speak to a lawyer and prevented him from leaving a private interrogation room where the interrogations occurred. In addition, Tekoh alleged that the deputy forced him to write a confession which he did under pressure. 

The case went in favor of Tekoh following a not guilty verdict. After the verdict, Tekoh went to court against the deputy for the Miranda rights violation, which saw the case go up to the Supreme Court, now titled Vega vs. Tekoh. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the police officer, stating that an officer can not be sued for failing to provide a Miranda warning. 

“The court’s decision now makes it impossible for individuals whose rights are violated during interrogations to get legal redress for damages suffered,” says criminal defense lawyer Tom Addair of Addair Law. The three dissenting judges, in their statement, said that the ruling opens the door for more instances of police abuse and pressure on criminal suspects to confess crimes they never committed.

Dissenting Voices

According to justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, the ruling does not call for the suppression of statements made without Miranda rights given, meaning defendants could be found guilty through evidence they may have been pressured to reveal. According to Justice Kagan, a defendant convicted under such circumstances could file an appeal and have the verdict reversed, but the damages suffered by that time may be too high.

Somebody should be held accountable for such damages in her and the other two dissenting justices’ opinions.

This decision became the second ruling in June that prevents people who have suffered damages due to police violation of their rights from suing the officers involved. In another 6-3 vote June ruling, the supreme court shielded border patrol agents from civil suits resulting from claims of unlawful retaliation and the excessive use of force when making an arrest.