Undoing Due Process? What a SCOTUS Reversal of Miranda Might Mean

In Vega v. Tekoh, the United States Supreme Court deliberates over a case that could shape whether law enforcement deliver Miranda rights across the country.

A recent opinion piece in The Hill anticipates the Vega holding will remove the constitutional requirement that law enforcement “Mirandize” individuals, meaning inform them of their rights to counsel and not self-incriminate, during a police stop.

Background

Vega concerns an individual, Terence Tekoh, accused of and charged with sexual assault. Law enforcement questioned Tekoh without Mirandizing him. On the charges in question, he was tried and acquitted. Following the acquittal, Tekoh sued the questioning officer, Carlos Vega, for violating his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

After a lower court provided relief to Tekoh, the Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari, or a request for the Court’s review, asking the following question:

Whether a plaintiff may state a claim for relief against a law enforcement officer under Section 1983 based simply on an officer’s failure to provide the warnings prescribed in Miranda.

Local Implications

The National Association of Counties and National League of Cities, joined by several other organizations, filed an amicus curiae brief, or “friend of the court” brief (no parties to the case are involved), with the Supreme Court arguing against the right to sue under § 1983 for a failure to Mirandize. The brief argues against the relief sought by Tekoh:

The proper remedy for any failure to provide Miranda warnings is the exclusion of the resulting statements in any subsequent criminal trial—not a civil damages action against local law enforcement.

More specifically, the brief argues that the process of Mirandizing an individual is not a right in and of itself, but rather a measure to prevent the violation of substantive rights. Moreover, allowing Tekoh’s claim to proceed would “aggravate the enormous flood of § 1983 litigation that local governments face every year.”

In his Hill opinion piece, Professor Jorge Xavier Camacho believes Vega could have more significant consequences than whether an individual has the right to sue under § 1983:

The Supreme Court now seems poised to reverse its decision in Miranda, which, much like Dobbs, would give states—and, to a significant extent, individual towns—the power to decide an important question of policy: whether police should be legally required to give these warnings.

Should the Court overturn Miranda, Professor Camacho advises three steps states can take to preserve the integrity of law enforcement:

  • “[R]eassert and protect local authority over local police” by ensuring “local freedom from state preemption on matters of policing and public safety.”
  • “[T]ear down the barriers around policing data” by “[c]ollecting, compiling, and publicly disclosing these data… to both identify new trends and track and revisit old ones to ensure their continued validity, providing policymakers with crucial information on how to shape policing policy.”
  • Develop “statewide minimum standards for policing,” including “standards for use of force by officers, decertify[ing] officers for egregious misconduct, and deem[ing] departments ineligible for discretionary state funding for failing abide by statewide training standards for officers.”

The above measures, intended to protect those constitutional rights undergirding Miranda, make up a significant portion of the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. The Act includes requirements for police complaint databases, police stop procedures, disciplinary matrixes for police misconduct, law enforcement liability, local police accountability boards, and other policies mirroring Professor Camacho’s advised approach.

A Vega v. Tekoh decision is anticipated later this week.

Useful Links:

Supreme Court Docket for No. 21-499 (Vega v. Tekoh)

Professor Camacho’s The Hill piece

Scotus Blog on Vega

A Primer on Miranda Warnings on MirandaWarning.org

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