Law enforcement officers cannot be sued for failing to inform criminal suspects about their right against self-incrimination.
…Miranda rights case
The court also ruled Thursday that law enforcement officers cannot be sued for failing to inform criminal suspects about their right against self-incrimination.
The 6-to-3 ruling does not alter the landmark Miranda v. Arizona but refers to civil lawsuits against officials who fail to apply it.
Alito, writing for the conservative majority, said “a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution.” Allowing such lawsuits, he wrote, would have “little additional deterrent value” while causing “many problems” for the court system.
In dissent, Kagan said the majority was denying individual rights by closing off the possibility of legal challenges if, for instance, a coerced statement is submitted at trial and a defendant is wrongly convicted. If the protections granted to suspects in Miranda are “secured by the Constitution,” then individuals must be able to sue government officials who deprive them of those rights.
“Today, the Court strips individuals of the ability to seek a remedy for violations of the right recognized in Miranda,” wrote Kagan, who was joined by Breyer and Sotomayor. “The majority here, as elsewhere, injures the right by denying the remedy.”
Kagan said the majority’s opinion means the only remedy for a Miranda violation is for defendants to seek at trial to suppress information wrongly obtained.
Under the well-known 1966 Miranda opinion, individuals questioned while in police custody must be told of their rights to remain silent, to have an attorney present and to know that their statements may be used against them.
In 2014, Terence Tekoh was accused of sexually assaulting a patient at a Los Angeles Medical Center where he worked as a nursing assistant. He was questioned at work by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, but the deputy, Carlos Vega, did not give him a Miranda warning. Tekoh’s confession was submitted at trial, but he was acquitted. Tekoh then filed a lawsuit seeking damages for alleged violations of his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit sided with Tekoh and said the use of his statement to the deputy, obtained without a Miranda warning, was a valid basis to sue.
Alito said any benefit to permitting claims against police officers is outweighed by potential problems, including what he said would be a waste of judicial resources and procedural issues, such as whether civil damages are available in instances where the unwarned statement had no impact on the outcome of the criminal case.
Civil rights advocates said the majority had significantly weakened Miranda rights by shielding police officers from legal liability and that Thursday’s ruling was part of a pattern by the court’s conservative majority.
The court “took a battering ram to one of the most cherished constitutional rights in America,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement. “The Roberts court does again what it has done far too often: rewrites the law in a way that facilitates police abuse by putting accountability out of reach.”