Warning You Of Your Right To Remain Silent Is Not A Right After All

Published date19 July 2022
Subject MatterGovernment, Public Sector, Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Constitutional & Administrative Law, Trials & Appeals & Compensation
Law FirmDinsmore & Shohl
AuthorJustin M. Burns and Brady R. Wilson

You have the right to remain silent and to an attorney, and what you say can be used against you in a court of law. From Sergeant Joe Friday on "Dragnet" to Lennie Briscoe on "Law & Order," millions of television viewers have been Mirandized by these all-too-familiar warnings such that they have become as much a part of police work as handcuffs and a badge. The late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist observed, "Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture."1 The "Miranda warnings," which arose out of a "constitutional rule" provided by the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona2 over 50 years ago, has become guarded precedent such that the Court has shielded it from attack even if subsequent jurists disagreed with its decree - at least for now.3

Another well-established rule is the ability to sue the government when one's rights have been violated. Section 1983 is a federal statute that allows a person to sue those in government who cause a "deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws."4 The statute was passed at a time when the federal government became concerned with states that may be "unable or unwilling" to protect individual freedoms and enforce the laws, and if a state would not intervene, federal courts could do so.5 Section 1983 is the statute often used to claim the government acted in an unconstitutional manner and that a statute should be enjoined or an injured party should be compensated with money damages - e.g., challenging an Ohio public school district's discipline of students6; holding prison guards liable for using excessive force that caused death in the Toledo, Ohio area7; and challenging the Ohio Department of Health's refusal to change sex markers on birth certificates for transgender persons8.

Miranda and Section 1983 recently intersected in the matter of Vega v. Tekoh. The Supreme Court faced a dilemma: if police officers violated a "constitutional rule" created by Miranda that was meant to protect the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, could a person sue for money damages under Section 1983 as he would for any other violation of a right? (Spoiler Alert: No.)

The case arose out of a confession to sexual assault. A patient accused Terence Tekoh ("Tekoh"), a certified nursing assistant, of sexual assault, and after questioning by Deputy Carlos Vega ("Vega"), Tekoh eventually signed a written confession. That confession was used at trial over Tekoh's objection. Tekoh was acquitted, and he sued Vega in federal court alleging a violation of his civil rights - specifically, for violating his Fifth...

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