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Supreme Court shields police from being sued for ignoring Miranda warnings

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Tekoh told a very different story. He described an hour-long confrontation. He said the deputy closed the door and accused him of groping the patient and falsely claimed the abuse had been captured on video.

Tekoh said that he asked to speak with a lawyer but that the deputy refused, blocked him from leaving and dictated a confession that he was required to write out and sign.

Tekoh was charged with a sexual offense, and his confession was introduced as evidence at his trial. Even so, the superior court jury found him not guilty.

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

A federal judge said Tekoh must prove the confession was coerced because the deputy’s failure to give the Miranda warnings alone did not violate his right against self-incrimination. The civil jury ruled for officer Vega.

Lawyers for Tekoh appealed and cited a 2000 Supreme Court ruling by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist that said the Miranda decision was a constitutional ruling that could not be overturned by Congress.


The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a 3-0 decision. Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said Rehnquist’s opinion “made clear 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.”

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

Charles Weisselberg, a UC Berkeley law professor, said he fears the decision gives police an incentive to pressure people who refuse to talk.

“There will be no penalty for violating Miranda in this way,” he said. “There will be zero incentive for officers to cease questioning.”

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