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Did the Supreme Court Water Down Your Miranda Rights?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on
With overturning Roe v. Wade and knocking down a 100-year-old New York gun restriction law, the U.S. Supreme Court had a busy end of term. Many people may not have noticed SCOTUS' ruling on Miranda rights. In Vega v. Tekoh, the Supreme Court held that you could not sue a police officer in civil court for improper Miranda warnings.

What Are Miranda Rights?

Of course you know the “You have the right to remain silent" spiel from your favorite crime show. However, you may not know that Miranda warnings are essential to your Fifth Amendment right protecting you from making self-incriminating statements. Part of right means prohibits the use of a forced statement or confession you make during a police interrogation in court against you. In 1966's Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that statements obtained without an officer giving you proper notice of your right to avoid incriminating yourself and your right to legal representation will be inadmissible in court. What came from that is commonly known as the Miranda warning, which goes in most states like this:
  1. You have the right to remain silent.
  2. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
  3. You have the right to an attorney.
  4. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
Before police questioning can begin, police must read you a "Miranda" statement advising you of your rights. Otherwise, any statements or written confessions you make are inadmissible as evidence in court. However, legal experts warn since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Berghuis v. Thompkins that you must affirmatively invoke your right to remain silent. Mere silence does not invoke your right.

Why Are Miranda Warnings Important?

Miranda warnings advise you that you have a right to an attorney, someone to advocate for you. They also notify you that any statements made could be used as evidence at a trial. But another critical aspect is that you have a "right to remain silent," meaning you do not have to answer questions under police interrogation without a lawyer present. The right to remain silent is significant protection, so you don't have to be bullied or forced into a confession.

What Is the Vega v. Tekoh Case About?

A hospital worker in Los Angeles was arrested for sexually abusing a patient. He was not given proper Miranda warnings and was prosecuted based on his unlawfully extracted confession. Although acquitted of all criminal charges, he sued the police officer for violating his civil rights, namely under the Fifth Amendment.

What Did the Supreme Court Say?

The Supreme Court held that Miranda warnings are a "prophylactic" way to protect your Fifth Amendment right, but the warning is not a right unto itself. This means if a police officer does not "Mirandize" you, any self-incriminating statements cannot be used against you at trial. But you don't have the right to sue a police officer for lack of a Miranda warning.

How Does Vega v. Tekoh Affect My Fifth Amendment Rights?

So Miranda warnings act as a shield to protect you from compelled self-incrimination. However, the Supreme Court does not allow you to sue a police officer who does not give proper Miranda warnings. The ability to sue a police officer in civil court would be a powerful deterrent for improper police procedure. Legal experts claim that by denying a civil remedy, police are not held personally accountable for interrogations that may result in forced confessions. In short: The Supreme Court is keeping your shield intact but denying you a spear.

What Can I Do to Protect My Fifth Amendment Rights?

Legal experts agree that the best way to keep from self-incrimination is to invoke your right and then "keep silent." When a police officer issues Miranda warnings (or doesn't), affirmatively state, “I want to remain silent" and “I want to invoke my right to a lawyer." Once you invoke your Fifth Amendment right, all interrogation must stop until you have a lawyer present.
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