This Report summarizes opinions issued on June 23 and 24, 2022 (Part I).
Opinion: Vega v. Tekoh, 21-499
Vega v. Tekoh, 21-499. In a 6-3 opinion, the Court held that a plaintiff may not sue a police officer under 42 U.S.C. §1983 based on the allegedly improper admission of an un-Mirandized statement in a criminal prosecution. Terence Tekoh was working as a certified nursing assistant when a female patient accused him of sexual assault. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega questioned Tekoh at the hospital, and Tekoh provided a written statement apologizing for touching the patient’s genitals. The parties dispute whether Vega used coercive investigatory techniques, but it is undisputed that Vega never informed Tekoh of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). At Tekoh’s first criminal trial, which ended in a mistrial, the judge held that Miranda had not been violated because Tekoh was not in custody when he provided the statement. On retrial, a second judge again denied Tekoh’s request to exclude his statement. The jury acquitted Tekoh, and he sued Vega under §1983 for allegedly violating his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the officer, but the judge granted a new trial based on an improper jury instruction. At the second trial, the judge denied Tekoh’s request to instruct the jury that it must find a Fifth Amendment violation if the officer took a statement in violation of Miranda and the statement was improperly used at Tekoh’s criminal trial. Instead, the court instructed the jury to consider whether Tekoh’s statement had been “improperly coerced or compelled” based on the totality of the circumstances. The jury found in favor of the officer, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the use of an un-Mirandized statement violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a §1983 claim. The Court reversed in an opinion by Justice Alito.
Section 1983 provides a cause of action against state actors who cause another to be subjected to “the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities by the Constitution and laws.” The Court held that a Miranda violation is not “tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment.” Miranda set out rules that, while “constitutionally based,” are “prophylactic rules nonetheless.” Miranda itself did not hold that a violation of the rules it established amounts to a Fifth Amendment violation, “and it is difficult to see how it could have held otherwise” since it is easy to imagine a suspect making self-incriminating statements while in custody without any compulsion. The Miranda Court “stated quite clearly that the Constitution did not itself require adherence to any particular solution for the inherent compulsions of the interrogation process and that its decision in no way created a constitutional straitjacket.” In subsequent cases, the Court restricted Miranda in ways that “would not have been possible if Miranda represented an explanation of the meaning of the Fifth Amendment right as opposed to a set of rules designed to protect that right.” See, e.g., Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298 (1985); New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984); Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978); Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U.S. 443 (1974); Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971).
The Court rejected the argument that Dickerson v. United States, 539 U.S. 428 (2000), upset the understanding of Miranda as a prophylactic decision. There, the Court held that Congress could not abrogate Miranda by statute because Miranda was a “constitutional decision” that adopted a “constitutional rule.” But, said the Court here, the Dickerson Court made clear that it did not equate a Miranda violation with a Fifth Amendment violation. For example, the Dickerson Court reiterated that the Constitution would not preclude legislative solutions that are at least as effective as Miranda in apprising accused persons of their rights. The “obvious point” of the Court’s formulations was to “avoid saying that a Miranda violation is the same as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right.” The Court’s creation of such prophylactic rules was itself a “bold and controversial claim of authority,” but the Court left Miranda in place along with the subsequent decisions referring to its prophylactic status.
Although a Miranda violation does not deprive a person of a right “secured by the Constitution” under §1983, the Court considered whether it deprived a person of a right secured by federal “laws.” Section 1983 does not provide relief every time a state actor violates a federal statute. Although it could be argued that a judicially created prophylactic rule cannot be the basis for a §1983 suit, the Court declined to decide that question because a judicially crafted prophylactic rule should apply “only where its benefits outweigh its costs.” Here, the benefit of allowing Miranda claims under §1983 would be “slight,” and the costs would be “substantial.” The Court concluded that Miranda is best served by suppressing statements at trial; allowing suits for civil damages against police officers would have “little additional deterrent value.” Such suits would cause many problems, said the Court, including undermining judicial economy, creating friction between state and federal courts deciding the same issue on the same set of facts, determining whether forfeiture or plain error rules carry over from the criminal trial, determining whether harmless-error rules apply, and determining whether civil damages are available where the unwarned statement had no impact on the outcome of the criminal case.
Justice Kagan dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. In their view, Miranda’s protections are a right secured by the Constitution to prevent the compulsion inherent whenever a suspect is subjected to custodial interrogation. Section 1983’s phrase “secured by the Constitution” has a “capacious meaning,” and Dickerson “is unequivocal: Miranda is set in constitutional stone.” The majority reached the opposite conclusion because Miranda’s rules are “prophylactic” and do not necessarily violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition against compulsion. But, insisted the dissent, even if Miranda extends beyond the Fifth Amendment’s “core guarantee,” it is still enforceable through §1983 as a constitutional rule because it grants a legally enforceable right to exclude evidence. Justice Kagan opined that the majority has no response to that point except to repeat that Miranda is prophylactic. In her view, prior law finding an enforceable right under the dormant Commerce Clause shows that a prophylactic right is enforceable under §1983. Justice Kagan concluded that the majority “injures the right by denying the remedy.”