Vega v. Tekoh: The Undermining of Miranda
- February 5th, 2023
- in Capstone Commentary
By: Kate Killean
The holding in Miranda v. Arizona is one of the backbones of law enforcement in the United States, not to mention its appearance in television shows and movies. It established the well-known standard that for a statement to be admissible in court, a law enforcement officer must read certain rights, including that against self-incrimination, to detainees before questioning. This rule is prophylactic, meaning it is not directly stated in the Constitution but is used to overprotect constitutional rights and make violations of these rights easier to detect.
Since Miranda was decided in 1966, over 70,000 judicial opinions have cited it. It has been the subject of a never-ending battle between those trying to strengthen its provisions and those trying to weaken them. Cases such as Dickerson v. United States have strengthened Miranda in that it nullified Congress’s 18 U.S.C.S. § 3510. § 3510 set out to overturn Miranda by negating the requirement that the suspect be read their Miranda rights before interrogation, among other things. Dickerson thus held that no act of Congress can overturn Miranda. Missouri v. Seibert further strengthened this idea by holding that statements made prior to Miranda warnings are not admissible in court. Despite these cases, Miranda has also been weakened in several instances that highlight exceptions to Miranda. Harris v. New York found a counteracting perjury exception, meaning that Miranda cannot be distorted to use perjury as a way of defense. New York v. Quarles found a public safety exception, stating that police need not give Miranda warnings for suspects’ answers to be admissible if public safety was at risk. Oregon v. Elstad found a “cleansing warnings exception,” meaning that while incriminating statements made prior to Miranda warnings are inadmissible, subsequent statements made knowingly and voluntarily are admissible. Miranda was recently further weakened in Vega v. Tekoh as it questioned whether an un-Mirandized statement in court is sufficient to support a § 1983 action. A 1983 action gives the right to seek redress if one’s constitutional rights were violated: the Supreme Court held that it is not.
Terrence Tekoh worked as a certified nurse assistant at a medical center in Los Angeles when a patient accused him of sexual assault. Deputy Carlos Vega of the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department was assigned to the case. Vega isolated Tekoh in a windowless room. He questioned him without Mirandizing him, denied his right to counsel, and used coercive tactics, including flashing his gun and threatening deportation, to get a written confession from Tekoh. This confession was later used in court, where, after a mistrial, Tekoh was acquitted from the charge of unlawful sexual penetration. Tekoh brought action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Vega seeking damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, including the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination, as incorporated and made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment in Malloy v. Hogan.
The Opinion of the Court in Vega, as delivered by Justice Alito, establishes that a violation of Miranda is not a constitutional violation, and a violation of Miranda is not sufficient grounds for action under §1983. The dissent, written by Justice Kagan, with Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor joining, heavily stressed that this decision was incorrect, citing Dickerson’s holding that “Miranda is a ‘constitutional rule’” and thus should receive the same protections. The controversial decision in Vega received scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union, which submitted an amicus curiae brief with Cato Institute. After the Supreme Court announced its decision, the ACLU argued that it “cuts off a critical means by which people whose rights have been violated can actually vindicate the promise of those rights.” The ACLU’s comment correctly details the critical role Miranda plays in protecting the rights outlined in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments: a role that has now been substantially weakened.
The result in Vega was incorrect; it will result in officers of the law failing to Mirandize detainees, as they will not face damages for their failure to do so. While Miranda is a prophylactic rule, it is a rule that has protected the Fifth and Sixth Amendments since its issuance in 1966. By informing detainees of their rights before questioning, Miranda safeguards these rights and ensures they are not infringed. Vega did not overturn Miranda. However, police officers now have little reason to satisfy their obligations outlined in Miranda, as un-Mirandized detainees cannot seek redress under § 1983. Because of this, the Exclusionary rule is the only defense detainees have: it states that statements made in violation of Miranda, such as coerced or involuntary statements, cannot be used in court. This rule could lead to an increase of detainees claiming that their statements were coerced. However, the effects of Vega are yet to be seen. The Harvard Law Review sees a potential grim future for Miranda, stating: “The Court’s crippling of the doctrinal underpinnings of Dickerson weakened the principles of stare decisis as applied to Miranda and opened the door for the Court to overturn Miranda itself.” Miranda serves as one of the most well-known elements of the United States’ criminal justice system, and the decision in Vega was egregiously wrong in weakening Miranda’s protections.
 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 504 (1966).
 Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 432 (2000).
 18 U.S.C.S. § 3510.
 Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600, 604 (2004).
 Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222 (1971).
 New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, 651 (1984).
 Oregon v. Elstad, 470 U.S. 298, 318 (1985).
 Vega v. Tekoh, 142 S. Ct. 2095 (2022).
 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
 Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 3 (1964).
 See Vega, 142 S. Ct. at 2099.
 Id. at 2109 (Kagan, J., dissenting).
 Brett M. Kaufman, Supreme Court Ruling Rejects the Promise of Miranda Rights, AM. CIV. LIBERTIES UNION (Dec. 9, 2022), https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/supreme-court-rejects-promise-miranda-rights.
 Case Comment, The Supreme Court 2021 Term: Leading Case: Federal Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Miranda Rights Vega v. Tekoh, 136 HARV. L. REV. 430 (2022), https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=analytical-materials&id=urn:contentItem:66WD-XXF1-JC8V-43H1-00000-00&context=1516831.