Supreme Court Declines to Allow Miranda Violations as a Basis For a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claim

By Mario J. Cacciola

On June 23, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United State held that a violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  Writing for the majority in Vega v. Tekoh, 597 U.S.  (2022), Justice Alito stated, “The question we must decide is whether a violation of the Miranda rules provides a basis for a claim under § 1983.  We hold that it does not.”  In reaching its decision, the Court rejected the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that Miranda constitutes a violation of Fifth Amendment protections, and described Miranda as “set of prophylactic rules” that are “constitutionally based” rather than a de facto violation of the Fifth Amendment.  As a result of the Court’s decision, the relief individuals may seek when facing a violation of Miranda is limited to seeking to exclude any wrongfully obtained statements from use at trial.

Vega concerned whether an individual, in this case Terrence Tekoh, whose incriminating statements were obtained in violation of Miranda and subsequently admitted as evidence could sue under § 1983 for damages for violations of his constitutional rights.  At the trial level, Tekoh asked the Court to instruct the jury that it was required to find Vega violated the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if Vega took a statement made in violation of Miranda, and that statement was improperly used in a subsequent criminal trial.  The District Court refused to make the instruction, reasoning that Miranda was set of prophylactic rules that could not alone provide a basis for a suit under § 1983.  After losing at trial, Tekoh appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who reversed the judgment and reasoned that the “use of an un-Mirandized statement…violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a § 1983 claim[.]”  In making its finding, the Ninth Circuit relied on Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, reasoning that Dickerson “made clear that the right of a criminal defendant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced in the prosecution’s case in chief is indeed a right secured by the Constitution.”  The Supreme Court reversed.

The Court made clear in its analysis that “a violation of Miranda is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and [] we see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue under § 1983[.]”  After an in depth discussion of the history of Miranda cases that continually described Miranda as prophylactic in nature and which differentiated Miranda violations from constitutional violations, Alito turned to Dickerson.  While acknowledging that the Dickerson Court found that “Miranda was a ‘constitutional decision’ that adopted a ‘constitutional rule’” and that Miranda “has the status of a “La[w] of the United States” that is binding on the States under the Supremacy Clause” he was quick to point out that Court also “made clear that it was not equating a violation of the Miranda rules with an outright Fifth Amendment violation.”

Alito then went on to explain that a § 1983 violation “may also be based on the ‘deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the laws” and thus if Miranda rules are in fact constitutional laws, a violation of those laws could provide a basis for a § 1983 claim.  However, the majority rejected that this law should be extended to allow for a right to sue under § 1983.  The Court found that “while the benefits of permitting the assertion of Miranda claims under § 1983 would be slight, the costs would be substantial” citing issues of judicial economy and procedural issues if the Court found otherwise.

The opinion does not overrule Miranda, nor does it find that individuals have no recourse for Miranda violations.  Rather, it maintains that individuals facing Miranda violations only recourse is to seek the exclusion of statements gathered in violation of Miranda. 

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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