Supreme Court shields police from lawsuits over Miranda

The Supreme Court on Thursday protected police from being sued by suspects for failing to give the well-known Miranda warnings.

In a Los Angeles case called Vega vs. Tekoh, the judges ruled 6-3 that the only remedy for violating Miranda is to block a suspect’s use of incriminating comments in court.

The conservative majority of the court described the Miranda warnings as a set of policies protecting the right to self-incrimination. As such, the warnings, including the “right to remain silent,” are not constitutional rights in themselves that could result in separate action being taken against the police.

But Miranda’s warnings remain intact. For a confession to be used in court, the suspect must be warned in advance that they have the right to remain silent and that anything they say can be used against them in court, they said.

In contrast, the liberal judges said the ruling weakened Miranda’s rights and could encourage police to use coercive tactics against people who have taken her into custody.

In previous rulings, the court said that evidence disclosed by a suspect can be used against him in court even if no warnings have been issued by Miranda.

In one such case from 2004, a man refused to speak to police who came to his home, but agreed to show them where his gun was hidden. The firearm was then used to convict him of the crime of being a felon in possession of a gun.

At times over the past several decades, police officers in California have been trained to continue questioning detainees, even after they have invoked their right to remain silent. Sometimes these individuals reveal crucial details about a crime or their involvement.

The decision is the second this month to largely shield law enforcement officials. On June 8, in another 6-3 decision, the court said federal border guards cannot be sued for violating constitutional rights.

The court case began in 2014 when Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega was called to the County-USC Medical Center to investigate a patient’s complaint that a nurse had sexually assaulted her. The officer said the nurses told him that Terence Tekoh brought the heavily sedated patient to her room.

Vega said he took Tekoh to a private room to speak, and the orderly admitted he “made a mistake” and agreed to write a full confession.

Tekoh told a very different story in court. He described an hour-long confrontation. He said the MP closed the door and accused him of groping the patient, falsely claiming the abuse was caught on video.

Tekoh said he asked to speak to a lawyer, but the deputy refused, prevented him from going and dictated a confession for him to write down and sign.

Tekoh was charged with a sex crime and his confession was introduced as evidence at his trial. Despite this, the Superior Court jury found him not guilty.

The orderly then sued Vega in federal court, accusing the congressman of violating his rights by not educating him about his rights and forcing him to confess to a crime.

A federal judge said Tekoh had to prove the confession was coerced because the deputy’s failure to give Miranda’s warnings alone did not violate his right to self-incrimination. The civil jury decided in favor of Vega.

Tekoh’s attorneys appealed, citing a 2000 Supreme Court ruling by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, which said the Miranda decision was a constitutional decision that could not be overturned by Congress.

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed 3-0. Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said Rehnquist’s opinion “made it clear that the right of a criminal defendant to have unmirandized testimony included in the prosecutor’s case is indeed a constitutional right.”

But the Supreme Court agreed in January to hear Vegas’ appeal. He argued that while the Miranda decision aimed to protect the right from self-incrimination, it “itself does not create a constitutional right.” Therefore, Vega and other police officers should not be sued for failing to give Miranda warnings, his attorneys said.

Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at UC Berkeley, said he feared the decision would give police an incentive to pressure people who refuse to speak.

“There will be no penalty if Miranda is injured in this way,” he said. “There will be no incentive for officers to stop questioning.” Supreme Court shields police from lawsuits over Miranda

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