On June 23rd, the United States Supreme Court rolled back the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination that was articulated by the Warren Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The conservative justices on the Court tried to characterize this decision as a logical reframing of the 5th Amendments interpretation, but in reality, this decision is merely an attempt to protect police officers in an era where policing is viewed increasingly negative.
In its 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court found that police officers are required to inform suspect of their right against self-incrimination (among others) in order for the arrest and subsequent prosecution to be constitutional. In Vega v. Tekoh, the 2022 Court found that police officers cannot be sued in civil courts for failure to administer the Miranda warnings.
This case arose after Terence Tekoh, a hospital attendant, was accused of sexually abusing a patient in Los Angeles, CA. Tekoh was interrogated by Carlos Vega, who did not inform him of his Miranda rights, and Tekoh ultimately provided written confession to the assault. This confession was later used as evidence in his criminal trial, though he was acquitted by a jury. As a result of his interrogation, Tekoh filed suit against Officer Vega under a federal civil rights law, Section 1983, which allows citizens to sue police officers over violations of constitutional rights.
The Vega decision leaves in place the aspect of the Miranda ruling where Defendants can have their criminal charges thrown out if the arresting officer fails to inform them of their rights at the time of arrest. All 6 conservative Justices found in favor of rolling back the Miranda protections, with the three liberal justices dissenting. In his written opinion, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. argued that
“Miranda rests on a pragmatic judgment about what is needed to stop the violation at trial of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. That prophylactic purpose is served by the suppression at trial of statements obtained in violation of Miranda.”
Justice Alito is willfully ignorant of the purpose of the 1966 Miranda decision. His decision does not engage with Fifth Amendment protections in good faith, and should instead be viewed as an attempt to further protect police from civil suits. In the wake of the widespread George Floyd protests of 2020, states and localities have seen a mass influx of civil suits against police. In the Tekoh decision, Justice Alito argued that “Allowing the victim of a Miranda violation to sue a police officer for damages…would cause many problems.” The Tekoh decision is not about fixing a previous mistake, it is about protecting police and the violent tactics they use to confront and intimidate African Americans. The Supreme Court has succeeded in rolling back one of the few legal protections available to people of color to push back against misconduct from officers.