The Supreme Court voted 6-3 in Vega v. Tekoh to ensure that many suspects who are denied warnings, commonly known as Miranda Rights, will have no legal recourse against law enforcement, if they are wrongly convicted.
Vega revolves around the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination, which bars a defendant from being “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” For much of American history—and especially in the Jim Crow South—law enforcement officers coerced confessions from suspects using intimidation or outright violence. (These confessions were frequently false.) Courts were supposed to assess whether confessions were “voluntary,” but the secrecy of interrogation rooms, combined with the massive power imbalance between police and suspects, made this task impossible. In 1966, the Supreme Court tried to resolve this problem with Miranda, which required police to warn suspects that they have the right to remain silent and to access an attorney. The majority hoped that suspects would quickly acquire counsel, who would ensure that law enforcement did not coerce (or beat) a confession out of their client.Slate.com
Terence Tekoh alleges that he was interrogated in police custody without receiving Miranda warnings. During his interrogation, he wrote a confession that was used against him at trial (though he was acquitted). Tekoh filed suit under a law that allows individuals to sue in federal court when the police violate “a right secured by the Constitution.” He alleged that law enforcement infringed on his Miranda rights by soliciting and submitting an un-Mirandized confession.Slate.com
Vega still requires courts to suppress un-Mirandized statements during trial. As Kagan noted, though, sometimes “such a statement will not be suppressed. And sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongly convicted and spend years in prison.” Eventually, the defendant may get his conviction reversed. But thanks to Thursday’s decision, he will have no remedy “for all the harm he has suffered.”Slate.com
Locally in the mid-90s, a former police chief in Santa Monica was entangled in a lawsuit surrounding violating miranda rights of two individuals charged with murder. The chief and officers attempted to use qualified immunity as a shield to protect themselves from asserting “their departments trained them” on how to violate suspects right to remain silent after they asserted their right to be represented by an attorney.
In the case of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice v. Butts the court affirmed “officers who intentionally violate the rights protected by Miranda must expect to have to defend themselves in civil actions”.
The Court’s ruling would know make that impossible.