Supreme Court Limits Remedy for Violation of Fifth and Sixth Amendment Rights

June 24, 2022

When the police, acting under the color of law, deprive a person of their civil or constitutional rights, the person generally has two remedies. First, if they are the victim of an unconstitutional search or seizure, a forced or unlawful confession or the deprivation of their right to counsel, they can ask the court to suppress the results of the unlawful conduct – ruling it and the fruits derived from the unlawful police conduct to be inadmissible in a criminal trial against them. That’s great if there’s a criminal trial. Another remedy for unconstitutional police conduct is a civil rights lawsuit seeking damages (assuming there is no other immunity) under a federal statute, 42 U.S.C. 1983.

When California nurse, Terence Tekoh, was questioned by the LA County Sheriff’s department about allegations that he improperly touched a female patient, he was never advised of his rights to remain silent and to have counsel under Miranda v. Arizona. Tekoh was tried for sexual assault and the un-Mirandized statement was admitted into evidence. The first trial resulted in a mistrial, the second in an acquittal. Tekoh sued the Sheriff under 1983 and won, but the Court vacated the judgment on the ground that the Court had given the wrong jury instructions. At the second trial, the question was whether the use of an un-Mirandized statement constituted a per se violation of the Fifth Amendment, or whether Miranda was just a “prophylactic rule” designed to prevent violations of the Constitution, and therefore a violation of Miranda did not mean that there was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Violation of Miranda Is Not a Constitutional Violation

On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the statement made in violation of Miranda (and the admission of that statement at a criminal trial) did not give rise to a violation of the Fifth Amendment – essentially because Miranda violations do not mean that the confession was obtained unconstitutionally. The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be “compelled” to be a witness against themselves in a criminal case. The Supreme Court majority notes that:

“It is easy to imagine many situations where an un-Mirandized suspect in custody may make self-incriminating statements without any hint of compulsion.”

The Court opined then that such non-compelled but un-Mirandized statements may be inadmissible under the logic of Miranda, but the admission of them does not violate the Constitution. Miranda, the Supreme Court suggests, created a “new rule” of police procedure, enforceable by suppression of evidence obtained in violation of the rule, but did not imply that violation of the rule meant that there was a constitutional violation. The Supreme Court also rejected the argument that a violation of Miranda was a violation of “rights privileges or immunities secured by …law” a right also protected under 1983. The judicially crafted rule in Miranda is not a “law” and therefore is not a right guaranteed by law; it’s just a recommended procedure.

What Happens if your Miranda Rights are Violated?

The Fifth Amendment merely requires that no person be “compelled” to be a witness against themselves in a criminal case. It says nothing about being required to be advised of that right. It says nothing about being “tricked” or “conned” into being a witness against oneself. The Sixth Amendment establishes a right to counsel in (certain) criminal cases, but says nothing about whether you have to be advised of that right, how you assert it and what happens if you do assert the right. All of these explanations of these rights were created by the Courts.

If Miranda is not a Constitutional right, and the rights conferred by Miranda are not conferred “by law,” then the only remedy for a violation of Miranda is that expressly provided by Miranda – suppression of the statement. But if the statement is not suppressed, the defendant wrongfully incarcerated, and held for years, they have no remedy other than to appeal or seek to be released. Miranda is, of course, a remedy. But it is also a requirement that certain rights be explained to persons in custody so that those constitutional rights can be asserted. If an accused with a right to counsel is never told they have such a right, goes to trial and is convicted without a lawyer under circumstances where the right to a lawyer is guaranteed, of what good is the guarantee?

The good news is, if the cops violate your Miranda rights and admit an un-Mirandized statement into trial and you are convicted, you can appeal and get the statement suppressed in a subsequent trial. The bad news is, that’s all you can do.

For further questions of clarifications, please contact and attorney within KJK’s Litigation and Arbitration practice group.