Police officers cannot be prosecuted for Miranda violations, according to Supreme Court rules


In a second case, the court sided with a death row inmate who sought execution by firing squad rather than lethal injection.

A Capitol Police officer rests his hand near his gun as he works near the anti-climb fence in front of the Supreme Court, Thursday, June 23, in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police officers could not be sued under federal civil rights law for failing to administer the familiar warning required by the court’s 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona. The vote was 6 to 3, with the judges dividing along ideological lines.

In a second case, the court ruled that a death row inmate in Georgia could invoke the same civil rights law to seek execution by firing squad rather than lethal injection. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the three liberal court members to form a majority.

The case of the Miranda warnings illustrates the contested status of the decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling heralded something less than a constitutional right.

The case, Vega v. Tekoh, was brought by Terence B. Tekoh, a hospital attendant accused of sexually abusing an immobilized patient undergoing an emergency MRI. Tekoh was questioned at length by Carlos Vega, a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles.

The two men offered different accounts of the nature of the interrogation, but there was no doubt that Vega had not given Miranda’s warning, that Tekoh had signed a confession admitting to the assault, that a state trial judge had admitted his confession into evidence or that a jury acquitted him.

Tekoh then filed a lawsuit against Vega under the Civil Rights Act, known as Section 1983, which allows citizens to sue state officials, including police officers, for violation of rights. constitutional.

Alito wrote that the remedy for a violation of the Miranda decision was the exclusion of the defendants’ statements during their criminal trials. The decision, he wrote, had failed to establish the type of constitutional right that could be vindicated by a lawsuit under Section 1983.

Alito acknowledged that Miranda’s rights had constitutional roots. But he wrote that “a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution.”

“Miranda rests on a pragmatic judgment about what is necessary to stop the violation at trial of the Fifth Amendment right against coerced self-incrimination,” Alito wrote. “This prophylactic purpose is served by the suppression at trial of statements obtained in violation of Miranda.”

He added: “Allowing the victim of a Miranda violation to sue a police officer for damages under Section 1983 would have little additional deterrent value, and allowing such claims would cause many problems.”

Roberts and Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett joined the majority opinion.

Dissenting, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the Supreme Court had repeatedly and emphatically stated that Miranda had established a constitutional right. This meant, she wrote, that officials who violated it were to be prosecuted under Section 1983.

“Today,” she writes, “the court deprives individuals of the ability to seek redress for violations of Miranda’s recognized right. The majority observes that defendants can always request “the suppression at trial of statements obtained” in violation of Miranda’s procedures.

“But sometimes,” Kagan continued, “such a statement will not be expunged. And sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongfully convicted and spend years in prison. He may succeed, on appeal or habeas, in having the condemnation. But then, what remedy has he for all the evil he has suffered?

Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Kagan’s dissent.

Kagan wrote the majority opinion in a second Civil Rights Act prosecution ruling, this one on whether a death row inmate in Georgia could sue officials there to find out. how it was to be performed.

The inmate, Michael Nance, argued that his constitutional right to be spared cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment would be violated if he were put to death by lethal injection because his veins were compromised.

Supreme Court precedents require inmates who oppose methods of execution to identify an alternative. Nance proposed a firing squad, a method approved in four states but not in Georgia. He said Georgian officials could adapt one of these other states’ protocols.

The issue in Nance v. Ward was whether Nance could sue under the Civil Rights Act. Kagan said yes.

“The prisoner does not challenge the death penalty itself; he takes the validity of that sentence as given,” she wrote. “And it provides the state with a real blueprint for carrying out the death penalty. If the detainee obtains the relief sought, it is because he has persuaded a court that the state could easily use his proposal to enforce it.

In dissent, Barrett wrote that Nance was required to file a habeas corpus challenge and could not use civil rights law because, in practice, he was seeking to completely thwart his execution.

“The court is looking too far down the road,” she wrote, suggesting Georgia’s potential adoption of the firing squad was speculation. “In my opinion, the consequence of the remedy which a prisoner seeks depends on the law of the State as it currently exists.”

Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch joined Barrett’s dissent.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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