SKIP TO CONTENT
We use both our own and third-party cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. If you continue to browse, we consider that you accept the use of these.
  • Now offering both In-Person and Virtual Training (check course page for updates)

VEGA v. TEKOH: US Supreme Court says no personal liability for a police officer’s violation of Miranda

We all know the Miranda warnings officers are required to give a suspect before conducting a custodial interrogation.  We also know the debates with every new factual scenario over what constitutes custody, explicit versus implied waivers, did they ask for an attorney or not, and the various ways the law is applied to each new factual situation.  As these cases work through the judicial process from trial court to appellate court, each court may have a different opinion as to whether a Miranda violation occurred.  This alone seems like an appropriate reason to disallow officers from being personally sued for such violations.  However, that was not the case until the United States Supreme Court decided Vega v. Tekoh, 597 U.S. ___ (2022).

In 2014, Terence Tekoh worked as a certified nursing assistant at a Los Angeles medical center.  A female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her and staff reported the allegation to law enforcement.  Deputy Vega responded and interviewed Tekoh at length at the hospital. He was not Mirandized.  Tekoh eventually provided a written statement apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals. Tekoh was arrested. The defense argued at trial the statement was coerced. The trial court allowed the statement to be used.  The first trial hung.  The next judge (retrial) allowed the statement into evidence. The next jury acquitted Tekoh.  Tekoh then sued Deputy Vega pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging Deputy Vega violated his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person acting under color of state law who “subjects” a person or “causes [a person] to be subjected … to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” The question for the Supreme Court was whether a violation of the Miranda rules provides a basis for a claim under § 1983. Tekoh argued that a violation of the Miranda rules constitutes a violation of the 5th Amendment, so he could then sue Deputy Vega for violating his constitutional rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that Miranda warnings are not constitutional rights, but rather prophylactic measures put in place to safeguard one’s 5th Amendment constitutional right. Factual scenarios exist where the law allows Miranda violations, including the need for answers to questions in situations posing an imminent threat to public safety that outweighs the prophylactic rule. These situations should not expose an officer to personal civil liability. Also, as discussed above where one court may find a Miranda violation, but another court with the same set of facts finds otherwise, makes for a mess requiring juries to make a legal finding when lawyers and judges disagree.  Further, the rationale of allowing officers to be personally sued is to deter. Here, statements obtained in violate of Miranda are excluded by the trial court. This already serves to deter officers from violating Miranda. In sum, a suspect cannot personally sue an officer pursuant to Section 1983 for a violation of Miranda.

What’s this mean for you? You may not have to deal with a civil suit, but if you violate Miranda, a confession will likely be excluded as evidence.

  • The information presented was highly relevant to my job and was presented in a manner that was organized and very easy to digest.

    —Michael McGarvey, California State Prison, San Quentin
  • Effective teaching teams! The presentation of the material was consistently interesting, and intelligent without being too intellectualized.

    —Michele Keller, Deputy Probation Officer, County of Alameda
  • It not often that you go to a training that you really, really want to pay attention to. Because of the high quality information and style of presentation, I knew that if I looked away I was going to miss out.

    —Quinten Graves, Oregon State Police
  • This training by far has been the most informative and most effective I've attended. The instructors engaged the students in a manner that made me want to speak my opinion, ask questions, and participate.

    —Julio Ibarra, Merced County Sheriff’s Office
  • Incredible training with amazing real world instruction. I have been taking law enforcement classes for over 30 years and by far this is the best presented and most useful.

    —Det. Brian Dale, Portland Police Bureau
  • I will continue to use and pass on this information because I really believe in the instructors and their approach.

    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
  • Your training gave me the confidence and tools to interview the suspect for over 5 hours and to bring a closure to the case.

    —Daniel Phelan, San Jose Police Department
  • I highly recommend this training for any Probation staff who have the necessity to interview/interrogate individuals for investigation purposes.

    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department
  • Your training has made the greatest and most direct impact on my assignment of any training class that I've taken.

    —Ken Gelskey, National City Police Department
  • Instructional style is engaging and highly effective.

    —George Laing, Fire Prevention Captain, Investigator
  • This was, by far, one of the most useful training classes I've attended since becoming an investigator.

    —Steven Aiello, Antioch Police Department
  • This training provided the useful tools necessary for assessing the veracity of a suspected child abuser, which goes a long way in helping to protect children.

    —Sunny Burgan, MSSW, LCSW, Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County DFCS