Vega v. Tekoh (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2022)

The Federal Docket

July 14, 2022

Deputy Carlos Vega of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to an LA-area hospital after a female patient reported that she had been sexually assaulted by Terence Tekoh, a CNA who worked at the hospital. Upon arrival, Vega questioned Tekoh extensively without advising him of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, ultimately obtaining a written statement of apology from him.

At Tekoh’s criminal trial, the statement was admitted over Tekoh’s objection, but he was acquitted nonetheless. Thereafter, Tekoh filed a §1983 suit against Vega, arguing that a state actor’s violation of Miranda constitutes the deprivation of a right “secured by the Constitution” or by “laws” for which §1983 authorizes suit.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court disagreed. First, the majority reviewed Miranda and its progeny, emphasizing the prophylactic nature of the rules espoused there. Although they were judicially crafted to protect a Constitutional right, they are distinct from the Constitutional right itself. Therefore, the Court held, Miranda rights are not ones “secured by the Constitution” for purposes of seeking relief pursuant to §1983.

Second, the majority considered whether Miranda warnings were ones secured by federal “law.” To answer that question in the affirmative, the majority said, would require it to extend a judicially-crafted, prophylactic rule to a new context—civil damages—which the court declined to do.

Justice Kagan dissented, arguing that even though Miranda rules may be defined as prophylactic, Dickerson made clear that Miranda set forth a constitutional minimum for what’s required by the Fifth Amendment. Thus, Miranda warnings are “rights” that are explicitly rooted in—i.e., “secured by”—the Constitution.

Certiorari to the Ninth Circuit
Opinion by Alito, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.
Dissent by Kagan, joined by Breyer and Sotomayor

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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