What Does The U.S. Supreme Court Ruling In Vega Mean For Texans?
Since the landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, the well-known “right to remain” silent has been a crucial element in arrests and court proceedings. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the inherent imbalance of power between law enforcement and those being arrested or held for questioning.
To preserve rights against self incrimination granted by the Fifth Amendment, Miranda held that people under a custodial interrogation setting must be advised:
- They have the right to remain silent
- Anything they say can be used against them in a court of law
- They have the right to the presence of an attorney
- If they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them prior to questioning if they so choose
For purposes of these rules, a “custodial interrogation” refers not only to an arrest, but any interview where a person may feel pressured to make a statement because they don’t feel free to leave. This could include statements made in a vehicle, on the street, at work, or even at their own home.
Miranda rights for those suspected of crimes have gone largely unchallenged for years For decades, they’ve been considered a bedrock protecting criminal suspects against high-pressure interrogation techniques designed to elicit confessions – even false confessions – from those being questioned.
In June 2022, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Vega v. Tekoh that some claim undermines Miranda in favor of broadened police powers. While the Court did not overturn its previous holding in Miranda – Miranda rules still apply in police interrogations – some feel that the Court’s opinion was a setback for defendants’ Constitutional protections.
What Was the Supreme Court’s Holding in Vega?
The Vega v. Tekoh case involved a sheriff’s deputy, Carlos Vega, who interviewed a suspect, Terence Tekoh at the medical center where he worked. Following the interview, Tekoh provided a written statement that led to charges of sex abuse against him. Eventually, Tekoh was found not guilty and filed a Federal lawsuit against the officer under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, which allows civilians to sue law enforcement for deprivations of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.”
At issue was whether a Miranda violation was, in itself, a direct violation of the Constitution or law. The Supreme Court held that it is not. Therefore, a lawsuit for civil damages under Section 1983 could not be based on a Miranda violation alone. In its holding, the Supreme Court found that the remedy for failure to read a suspect their Miranda rights is to exclude statements from trial – not to permit recovery in a civil suit. In other words, Miranda sets forth a rule, but not a right.
The opinion does not do away with the Miranda requirement that has been practiced for over 50 years. But it may take some teeth out of the rule by relaxing the repercussions that a police officer can face if they skip the Miranda reading. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement after the Vega ruling stating that “By denying people whose rights are violated the ability to seek redress under our country’s most important civil rights statute, the Court further widens the gap between the guarantees found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the people’s ability to hold government officials accountable for violating them.”
What does the Vega Case Mean for Texas Defendants?
The new Supreme Court ruling does not change the requirement that a law enforcement officer is required to read someone their Miranda rights. If a police interrogation proceeds without a suspect being advised of their rights to remain silent or to retain an attorney, statements made during the interrogation process can potentially be barred from use by the prosecution in court. Law enforcement agencies cannot relax their standards simply because certain civil rights lawsuits might not be permitted.
It is important for those being investigated or charged with crimes to remember that Miranda rules still apply, even if the new Supreme Court ruling limits their ability to file civil rights lawsuits after a Miranda violation.
Our Pearland, Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Understand Your Legal Rights and Miranda Rights in a Criminal Case
Criminal charges often include statements made by defendants to police. If any incriminating statements were made without a suspect being properly advised of their Constitutional rights, those statements can be excluded from the case. Sometimes a violation can warrant a dismissal of your case entirely. At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal lawyers believe that everyone’s Constitutional rights must be respected by law enforcement officers. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today or call 832-243-6153 for a case evaluation to build your defense.