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On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Carlos Vega v. Terence B. Tekoh that a plaintiff may not sue a police officer for obtaining an improper admission of an “un-Mirandized” statement used in a criminal prosecution. The ruling does not impact the exclusion of evidence obtained without the Miranda warning for a criminal trial. 

“Because a violation of Miranda is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment, and because we see no justification for expanding Miranda to confer a right to sue under Section 1983, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” wrote Justice Alito, who delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 23. 

The case involves Terence Tekoh, a hospital worker in Los Angeles who was accused of sexually assaulting a patient at a hospital in 2014, and Carlos Vega, a Los Angeles County sheriff deputy who questioned Tekoh. Tekoh’s attorneys argued Vega used aggressive techniques to get Tekoh to confess. Vega’s attorneys said that the confession was consensual and voluntary and he wasn’t in custody at the time of the confession. 

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Tekoh was tried and acquitted, even with a confession at his trial. He later sued Vega under Section 1983, a federal law that allows suits for damages against government misconduct when a person’s constitutional rights were violated. 

The ruling affects Miranda because it prohibits those wrongfully prosecuted from obtaining damages, even if their rights were violated. It leaves victims without recourse for government misconduct. 

Miranda rights don’t apply on some Tribal lands, however, because Tribal courts do not require Miranda. Some Tribes require Miranda, through their own rules and regulations, but it’s unclear how many do. 

“The protections provided to Indians in Tribal Courts are outlined in the Indian Civil Rights Act and each Tribal Nation’s constitution,” said Danielle Finn, Associate Judge for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to Native News Online. “Therefore, each Tribe has different rights provided and some may and some may not be ‘mirandizing’.”

There is no known number of Tribes who give or do not give Miranda rights, but many do because it is consistent with their training. The Indian Civil Rights Act requires Tribes to provide an attorney for a defendant facing charges that could bring a year or more in jail. Tribal courts are less-adversarial than state or federal courts. 

The decision to limit Miranda rights does apply off Tribal lands, though, and government misconduct is no longer under the same scrutiny. 

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.