The Right to Remain Silent ... Sometimes: Why [section] 1983 Claims for Miranda Violations Are Necessary to Fifth Amendment Protection.

AuthorMoore, Logan

    The police arrive at your workplace and ask to speak with you. Feeling embarrassed and confused, you agree to accompany them to an isolated room to answer questions. As you pass by the concerned looks and accusatory whispers of your co-workers, you wonder to yourself, "what did I do?" Once in the room, the feeling of helplessness becomes insurmountable. The officers have blocked the exit and begin to vehemently accuse you of a crime. Although you adamantly deny any involvement in or knowledge of the crime, the officers seem prepared to keep you in the room until you make a statement. Without ever being informed that you have the right to remain silent or the right to an attorney, you begin to talk. As you walk back through the office, this time in handcuffs, it dawns on you: you just confessed to a crime you did not commit.

    Miranda warnings have become "an institution in American society, thoroughly established within our culture and our consciousness." (1) Yet, a vast majority of Americans cannot freely recall or do not understand the Miranda rights afforded to them as a criminal suspect. (2) In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court of the United States acknowledged that individuals "must be adequately and effectively apprised of [their] rights" in order to combat the compelling pressures of in-custody interrogation and "permit a full opportunity to exercise the privilege against self-incrimination." (3) Under the Miranda doctrine, the un-Mirandized statements you made in the room alone with the police must be excluded from subsequent criminal proceedings. (4) But, what if they are still used against you in a criminal investigation or introduced at your trial? Do you have any recourse against the officer, prosecutor, judge, or county for the admission of statements made in violation of your Miranda rights? Does it matter whether you are acquitted at trial?

    The Supreme Court of the United States recently faced these questions in Vega v. Tekoh. (5) Terence Tekoh alleged that a Los Angeles police officer coerced him into giving a false confession without being read his Miranda rights. (6) According to Tekoh, the officer blocked Tekoh's ability to exit the room, ignored his request for a lawyer, and pressured him into giving a confession despite his adamant denial. (7) Tekoh recalled the officer placing his hand on his gun and stating that "he was not joking." (8) While the officer alleged that the entire encounter and statement were voluntary, there is no dispute that Tekoh was not read his Miranda rights. (9) Tekoh's un-Mirandized confession was subsequently introduced against him at trial. (10) He filed a suit against the officer under 42 U.S.C. [section] 1983 alleging that the officer violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. (11) The Court held that a Miranda violation alone cannot serve as the basis for a [section] 1983 claim. (12) Its holding sweeps under the rug many of the problems with modern-day Miranda enforcement and drastically reduces Miranda's constitutional force.

    Part II of this Note discusses the relevant legal background of the Miranda doctrine and how it intersects with [section] 1983 claims. Part III examines recent developments in federal court jurisprudence regarding civil claims for Miranda violations, from a circuit split to the Court's holding in Vega v. Tekoh. Finally, Part IV analyzes the negative implications of the Court's holding--that Miranda violations do not give rise to [section] 1983 civil suits--and argues that it is both legally and practically necessary to permit such claims.


    The protection of criminal suspects from involuntary statements in interrogations dates back to well before Miranda v. Arizona. (13) In several cases prior to Miranda, the Court carved out certain interrogation rules to safeguard an individual's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. (14) The Miranda Court subsequently recognized that more specific requirements were needed to truly ensure that an individual's privilege against self-incrimination was not jeopardized. (15) While Miranda is viewed as a landmark case in criminal law, (16) debates about whether it established a constitutional rule itself have affected its practical application in criminal litigation. (17) In fact, even the Court has provided conflicting guidance about the Miranda decision's constitutional roots. (18) Not only is clarity on this debate important for evidentiary purposes at a criminal trial, (19) but it also helps to answer the question of whether a Miranda violation may serve as the basis for a [section] 1983 claim. (20)

    1. Pre-Miranda Fifth and Sixth Amendment Cases

      In Bram v. United States, the Court, for the first time, applied the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination to interrogation settings. (21) According to the Court, a confession may be rendered involuntary if the government exerts influence over the confessor. (22) And because the Court concluded that interrogation necessarily involves the exertion of some degree of influence, it held that a voluntariness analysis must be performed not only when a defendant confesses at a hearing or in court, but also during any interrogations with the police. (23)

      The Court expanded its protections against involuntary confessions by broadening its voluntariness standard in Ziang Sung Wan v. United States. (24) After the appellate court seemingly deemed the defendant's confession voluntary merely because it was not induced by a threat or a promise, the Court made clear that "[a] confession is voluntary in law if, and only if, it was, in fact, voluntarily made." (25) Therefore, the requisite for voluntariness is satisfied not by showing the absence of a promise or threat, but rather by proving that the confession was not obtained through any degree of compulsion--regardless of the character of the compulsion or when it was applied. (26) Historian Scott D. Seligman has referred to Ziang Sung Wan as the case that "laid the groundwork for Americans' right to remain silent." (27)

      A few decades later, the Court set the foundation for Miranda's Fifth Amendment analysis when it extended an individual's Sixth Amendment right to counsel to police interrogations. (28) In Escobedo v. Illinois, the Court analyzed the voluntariness of a defendant's confession made without the presence of an attorney. (29) Where the focus of an investigation shifts to a specific suspect and the investigation's purpose becomes to "elicit a confession," the Court noted, the suspect must have an opportunity to consult with his lawyer. (30) Thus, in broadening the scope of an individual's protection against compulsory interrogation, the Escobedo Court held that an individual's statements will be inadmissible at trial if he is denied his right to counsel and is not "effectively warned of his absolute constitutional right to remain silent" during interrogation. (31) The Court decided Miranda just two years after Escobedo, and it relied heavily on the Escobedo Court's belief that the presence of an attorney and advisement of constitutional rights were necessary to "eliminate[] the evils [of] the interrogation process." (32)

    2. Miranda v. Arizona

      Miranda v. Arizona was one of four cases consolidated to address the admissibility of statements made during custodial interrogations. (33) In all four cases, law enforcement questioned the defendant in a room secluded from the public, and each defendant made self-incriminating statements. (34) None of the four defendants were given effective warnings of their rights at the beginning of their respective interrogations. (35) The signed confessions were admitted at three of the criminal trials. (36) The Miranda Court was concerned with the voluntariness of such statements and the practical application of the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in present-day conversations with police. (37)

      The majority began its analysis by discussing the then-modern practice of in-custody interrogation. (38) To do so, it examined various police manuals and texts which described the investigation procedures used by officers around the country. (39) The majority summarized the manuals' suggested interrogation techniques as follows:

      To be alone with the suspect is essential to...deprive him of any outside support. The aura of confidence in his guilt undermines his will to resist. He merely confirms the preconceived story the police seek to have him describe. Patience, and persistence, at times relentless questioning, are employed....When normal procedures fail to produce the needed result, the police may resort to deceptive stratagems....The police then persuade, trick, or cajole [the suspect] out of exercising his constitutional rights. (40) The Court noted that many of these subtle interrogation techniques may not render a suspect's statements involuntary by "traditional terms." (41) According to the majority, however, such an interrogation environment serves no other purpose than to "subjugate the individual to the will of his examiner." (42) And thus, no statement obtained from a suspect can truly be voluntary "unless adequate protective devices are employed to dispel the compulsion." (43)

      Given this backdrop, the majority in Miranda provided a list of now frequently-quoted safeguards to ensure that individuals are effectively apprised of their rights in an interrogation setting. (44) When an individual is in custody and subject to interrogation, he must be informed in clear and unequivocal terms of the following: his right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him in court, his right to counsel during the interrogation, and that an attorney will be appointed for him if he cannot afford one. (45) With regard to the right to remain silent, the Court reasoned that it is a "threshold requirement for an intelligent decision" that one be made aware of his Fifth Amendment privilege...

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