Director, Center for Supreme Court AdvocacyNational Association of Attorneys General
This Report summarizes an opinion issued on January 20, 2022 (Part I); and cases granted review on January 14, 2022 (Part II).
Cases Granted Review: Tekoh v. Vega, 21-499
Tekoh v. Vega, 21-499. At issue is whether the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal case is alone sufficient to establish liability in a later 42 U.S.C. §1983 action against the officer who elicited the statement. During an investigation into a sexual assault, respondent Terence Tekoh provided a written confession to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega, who did not provide Tekoh Miranda warnings. Despite the admission of his confession at his criminal trial (the trial judge concluded that Tekoh was not in custody at the time), Tekoh was acquitted. He then sued Deputy Vega in federal court under §1983, claiming that the deputy had deprived him of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The trial court declined Tekoh’s request to instruct the jury that it should find in his favor if it found that Deputy Vega had obtained statements from him in violation of Miranda, instead instructing the jury on coerced confessions (for which failure to give Miranda warnings was but one factor). The Ninth Circuit reversed (985 F.3d 713), widening a split among circuits. Relying on Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), the Ninth Circuit concluded that “the right of a criminal defendant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced in the prosecution’s case in chief is indeed a right secured by the Constitution,” and that therefore a violation of such a right was, by itself, sufficient to support a §1983 action.
Tekoh argues that the Ninth Circuit read Dickerson too broadly, and that a review of more recent Supreme Court decisions confirms that Miranda did not establish a “constitutional right” that could be independently violated, but rather a “prophylactic constitutional rule” that governs the admission of evidence at a criminal trial. Tekoh also takes issue with the Ninth Circuit’s causation analysis. He highlights that, because the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is implicated only where a statement is admitted at a criminal trial, any chain of causation between his eliciting of Tekoh’s statement and the alleged constitutional violation was broken by both the prosecutor’s decision to introduce the statement and the trial judge’s decision to admit it.
[Editor’s note: Some of the language in the background section of the summary above was taken from the petition for writ of certiorari and brief in opposition.]