The Los Angeles Times has reported that the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments this week in a case which could have massive implications for law enforcement.
At issue is whether police officers can face civil liability in instances where they fail to read a suspect his or her Miranda rights.
Plaintiff claims he was pressured to confess
The case arose as a result of a confrontation in 2014 between Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Deputy Carlos Vega and a hospital nursing assistant Terence Tekoh concerning an alleged sexual assault at County-USC Medical Center.
Vega began to question Tekoh after nurses told the deputy that Tekoh was seen taking the heavily sedated patient to her room.
While Vega claims that Tekoh said he “made a mistake” and agreed to provide a confession, Tekoh insists he was harangued by Vega for over an hour in a private room. The nursing assistant also said that Vega falsely told him the sexual assault was captured on video.
What’s more, Tekoh insists that Vega refused his request to speak with an attorney and blocked him from leaving the room until he signed a confession.
Tekoh was subsequently acquitted of assaulting the patient and then went on to file a lawsuit over Vega’s having allegedly forced him to sign a confession and failing to read him his rights.
Justices appear reluctant to elevate Miranda warning
Tekoh lost the suit and a federal judge determined that his only opportunity for recovery would be to prove that Vega coerced his confession as failure to provide Miranda rights is not actionable on its own. However, Tekoh won on appeal and Vega is now seeking relief from the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled in Miranda vs. Arizona that law enforcement officers are obligated to inform suspects of their constitutional rights and that a failure to do so will result in a confession being thrown out of court.
Still, the Supreme Court has not found a Miranda warning to itself be a constitutional right, and the Times noted that it does not appear ready to do so now.
The paper pointed to comments on Wednesday from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggesting a reluctance on their part to affirm Miranda warnings as a constitutional right.
It also cited Justice Clarence Thomas’ long-held view that Miranda should not be regarded as “a code of police conduct.”