In a 6-3 decision in Vega v. Tekoh,[1] the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded a Circuit Court decision holding that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a Section 1983 claim against the officer who obtained the statement.  The Supreme Court determined that a violation of Miranda is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and thus concluded there was no justification for “expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue under [Section] 1983.”


In March 2014, Terence Tekoh was working as a certified nursing assistant at a Los Angeles medical center.  When a female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her, the hospital staff reported the accusation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega responded.  Vega questioned Tekoh at length in the hospital, and Tekoh eventually provided a written statement apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.  The parties disputed whether Vega used coercive investigatory techniques to extract the statement, but it was undisputed that he never informed Tekoh of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966).  Miranda held that during a custodial interrogation police officers must inform a suspect that “he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning.”  Id., at 479.

Tekoh was arrested and charged in California state court with unlawful sexual penetration.  His written statement was admitted against him at trial.  After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Tekoh sued Vega under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, seeking damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, including his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.  After a trial, the jury found in Vega’s favor.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a Section 1983 claim against the officer who obtained the statement.  The Circuit Court understood the Supreme Court’s decision in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U. S. 428 (2000) to have made clear that the right of a criminal defendant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced in the prosecution’s case in chief is a right secured by the Constitution.  The Ninth Circuit therefore concluded that Tekoh could establish a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination simply by showing that Miranda had been violated.  The Court of Appeals remanded the case for a new trial. Vega’s petition for rehearing en banc was denied, but seven judges dissented from the denial of rehearing.  The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.


The United States Supreme Court noted that Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person acting under color of state law who “subjects” a person or “causes [a person] to be subjected . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.”  The Court considered whether a violation of the Miranda rules provides a basis for a claim under Section 1983.

The Court explained that the Fifth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  This Clause “permits a person to refuse to testify against himself at a criminal trial in which he is a defendant” and “also ‘privileges him not to answer official questions put to him in any other proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where the answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings.’”  Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U. S. 420, 426 (1984) (quoting Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 U. S. 70, 77 (1973)).  The right also bars the introduction against a criminal defendant of out-of-court statements obtained by compulsion.  See, e.g., Bram v. United States, 168 U. S. 532, 565 (1897); Miranda, 384 U. S., at 466; Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U. S. 433, 440-442 (1974).

In Miranda, the Supreme Court concluded that additional procedural protections were necessary to prevent the violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when suspects who are in custody are interrogated by the police.  To that end, the Miranda Court imposed a set of prophylactic rules requiring that custodial interrogation be preceded by the warnings and disallowing the use of statements obtained in violation of these new rules by the prosecution in its case-in-chief.  Miranda, 384 U. S., at 444, 479.  Here, Tekoh argued that a violation of Miranda constitutes a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.  Writing for the Supreme Court majority, Justice Samuel Alito disagreed.

The Court stated that Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination but claimed only that those rules were needed to safeguard that right during custodial interrogation.  The Court deemed this a sensible distinction, as an un-Mirandized suspect in custody may make self-incriminating statements without any hint of compulsion.  Moreover, the warnings that Miranda required included components, such as notification of the right to have retained or appointed counsel present during questioning, that do not concern self-incrimination per se but are instead designed to safeguard that right.  The Court observed that the same was true of Miranda’s rules about the waiver of the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.  The Miranda Court stated that the Constitution did not itself require “adherence to any particular solution for the inherent compulsions of the interrogation process” and that its decision “in no way create[d] a constitutional straitjacket.”  Id., at 467.  The Court noted that since Miranda, the Court had repeatedly described Miranda rules as “prophylactic.”[2]

The Court observed that after Miranda, the Supreme Court engaged in the process of charting the dimensions of these new prophylactic rules, and, in doing so, weighed the benefits and costs of any clarification of the prophylactic rules’ scope. See Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U. S. 98, 106 (2010) (“A judicially crafted rule is ‘justified only by reference to its prophylactic purpose,’ . . . and applies only where its benefits outweigh its costs”).  The Court stated that some post-Miranda decisions found that the balance of interests justified restrictions that would not have been possible if Miranda described the Fifth Amendment right as opposed to a set of rules designed to protect that right.

For example, in Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222, 224-226 (1971), the Court held that a statement obtained in violation of Miranda could be used to impeach the testimony of a defendant, even though an involuntary statement obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment could not have been employed in this way.  In Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U. S. 443, 450-452, n. 26 (1974), the Court held that the “fruits” of an un-Mirandized statement can be admitted.  In doing so, Tucker distinguished police conduct that “abridge[s] [a person’s] constitutional privilege against compulsory self-incrimination” from conduct that “depart[s] only from the prophylactic standards later laid down by this Court in Miranda to safeguard that privilege.”  Id., at pp. 445-446.  In Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U. S. 298 (1985), the Court, following the reasoning in Tucker, refused to exclude a signed confession, and emphasized that an officer’s error “in administering the prophylactic Miranda procedures . . . should not breed the same irremediable consequences as police infringement of the Fifth Amendment itself.”  Elstad., at p. 309.  The Court majority here stated that it was “hard to see how these decisions could stand if a violation of Miranda constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The Court rejected the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion and Tekoh’s argument that Dickerson v. United States had upset the firmly established prior understanding of Miranda as a prophylactic decision.  The Court explained that Dickerson involved a federal statute, 18 U. S. C. section 3501, that effectively overruled Miranda by making the admissibility of a statement given during custodial interrogation turn solely on whether it was made voluntarily.  530 U. S., at 431-432.  The Dickerson Court held that Congress could not abrogate Miranda by statute because Miranda was a “constitutional decision” that adopted a “constitutional rule,” 530 U. S., at 438-439, and that Court noted that these rules could not have been made applicable to the States if they did not have that status.  At the same time, the Dickerson Court made it clear that it was not equating a violation of the Miranda rules with an outright Fifth Amendment violation.  Instead, the Dickerson Court described the Miranda rules as “constitutionally based” with “constitutional underpinnings,” 530 U. S., at 440, and n. 5.  The Court here stated that the intent of these formulations was obviously to avoid saying that a Miranda violation is the same as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right.

The Court here concluded that a violation of Miranda does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution, and therefore such a violation does not constitute “the deprivation of [a] right . . . secured by the Constitution” for purposes of Section 1983.

The Court noted that a Section 1983 claim may also be based on “the deprivation of any rights . . . secured by the . . . laws.”  (Emphasis added.)  However, the argument that Miranda rules constitute federal “law” that can provide the ground for a Section 1983 claim could not succeed unless there was a convincing reason for this “law” to be expanded to include the right to sue for damages under Section 1983.  The Court again noted that “[a] judicially crafted” prophylactic rule should apply “only where its benefits outweigh its costs,” Shatzer, 559 U. S., at 106.  The Court explained that while the benefits of permitting the assertion of Miranda claims under Section 1983 would be slight, the costs would be substantial.  For example, allowing a claim like Tekoh’s would disserve “judicial economy,” Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U. S. 322, 326 (1979), by requiring a federal judge or jury to adjudicate a factual question (whether Tekoh was in custody when questioned) that had already been decided by a state court.  The Court added that allowing Section 1983 suits based on Miranda claims could also present many procedural issues.  The Court concluded that Miranda and its progeny provided sufficient protection for the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded.

Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, dissented.  The dissent asserted that Dickerson v. United States was clear that Miranda is a “constitutional rule,” and that rule grants a corresponding right:  If police fail to provide the Miranda warnings to a suspect before interrogating him, then he is generally entitled to have any resulting confession excluded from his trial.  The dissent maintained that only one conclusion could follow from these statements – that Miranda’s protections are a “right [ ]” “secured by the Constitution” for Section 1983 purposes.  The dissent warned that the majority’s holding that Miranda is not a constitutional right enforceable through a Section 1983 suit would prevent individuals from obtaining any redress when police violated their rights under Miranda.


The Supreme Court here establishes that a violation of Miranda rules is not tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and so does not provide a basis for a claim under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.  A violation of the prophylactic rules underpinning Miranda is not a claim cognizable under Section 1983.  However, a Fifth Amendment violation could still create liability exposure to agencies and individual law enforcement officers.  Agencies may wish to review interrogation procedures and clarify related polices considering this decision.

As always, if you want to discuss any of this in greater detail, do not hesitate to contact James Touchstone at jrt@jones-mayer.com or by telephone at (714) 446-1400.

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[1] 2022 U.S. LEXIS 3053 (June 23, 2022).

[2] The Court cited many Supreme Court cases on this point, including Howes v. Fields, 565 U. S. 499, 507 (2012); J. D. B. v. North Carolina, 564 U. S. 261, 269 (2011); McNeil v. Wisconsin, 501 U. S. 171, 176 (1991); Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U. S. 298, 309 (1985); and Brown v. Illinois, 422 U. S. 590, 600 (1975).