A violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a §1983 claim


In March 2014, Terence Tekoh was working as a certified nursing assistant at a Los Angeles medical center. When a female patient accused him of sexually assaulting her, the hospital staff reported the accusation to the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department, and Deputy Carlos Vega responded. Vega questioned Tekoh at length in the hospital, and Tekoh eventually provided a written statement apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.

The parties dispute whether Vega used coercive investigatory techniques to extract the statement, but it is undisputed that he never informed Tekoh of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436 (1966). Tekoh was charged in California state court with unlawful sexual penetration. Tekoh was acquitted and he then brought this action under 42 U. S. C. §1983 against Vega.

The trial judge refused to instruct the jury that it was required to find that Vega violated the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self- incrimination if it determined that he took a statement from Tekoh in violation of Miranda. The jury found in Vega’s favor, and Tekoh appealed.

A Ninth Circuit panel reversed, holding that the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a §1983 claim against the officer who obtained the statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ninth circuit and held a violation of the Miranda rules does not provide a basis for a §1983 claim.


If a Miranda violation were tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment, our answer would of course be different. Miranda itself and our subsequent cases make clear that Miranda imposed a set of prophylactic rules. Those rules, to be sure, are constitutionally based, but they are prophylactic rules nonetheless.

Miranda itself was clear on this point. Miranda did not hold that a violation of the rules it established necessarily constitute a Fifth Amendment violation, and it is difficult to see how it could have held otherwise. The Miranda Court stated quite clearly that the Constitution did not itself require adherence to any particular solution for the inherent compulsions of the interrogation process and that its decision in no way created a constitutional straitjacket.

A. Cases that limited violations of Miranda

After Miranda was handed down, the Court engaged in the process of charting the dimensions of these new prophylactic rules.

In Harris v. New York, 401 U. S. 222 (1971), we held that a statement obtained in violation of Miranda could be used to impeach the testimony of a defendant.

In Michigan v. Tucker, 417 U. S. 443  (1974), we held that the “fruits” of an un-Mirandized statement can be admitted. Tucker was arrested for rape and provided some, but not all, of his Miranda rights. Tucker then gave an alibi that he was with a friend (Henderson), at the time of the crime, but the police later elicited from Henderson information tending to incriminate Tucker. Tucker sought to exclude Henderson’s testimony as fruit of the poisonous tree but that was denied. Because there had been only a Miranda violation in that case, the rule of automatic exclusion was found to be inapplicable.

In New York v. Quarles, 467 U. S. 649 (1984), we held that statements obtained in violation of Miranda need not be suppressed when the questioning is conducted to address an ongoing “public safety” concern.

B. Cases that expanded protections of Miranda

While these decisions imposed limits on Miranda’s prophylactic rules, other decisions found that the balance of interests called for expansion.

In Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U. S. 610 (1976), we held that silence following a Miranda warning cannot be used to impeach.

In Arizona v Roberson, 486 U. S. 675 (1988), we held that a suspect’s post Miranda request for counsel with respect to one offense barred later interrogation without counsel regarding a different offense.

Thus, all the post-Miranda cases we have discussed acknowledged the prophylactic nature of the Miranda rules and engaged in cost-benefit analysis to define the scope of these prophylactic rules.

C. Dickerson

In Dickerson, 530 U. S. 428 (2000), we did not upset the firmly established prior understanding of Miranda as a prophylactic decision. Dickerson involved a federal statute, 18 U. S. C. §3501, that effectively overruled Miranda by making the admissibility of a statement given during custodial interrogation turn solely on whether it was made voluntarily.

We held that Congress could not abrogate Miranda by statute because Miranda was a “constitutional decision” that adopted a “constitutional rule.” At the same time, however, we made it clear that we were not equating a violation of the Miranda rules with an outright Fifth Amendment violation.

The Miranda rules, though not an explication of the meaning of the Fifth Amendment right, are rules that are necessary to protect that right (at least until a better alternative is found and adopted). Thus, in the words of the Dickerson Court, the Miranda rules are “constitutionally based” and have “constitutional underpinnings.” But the obvious point of these formulations was to avoid saying that a Miranda violation is the same as a violation of the Fifth Amendment right.

D. Cost/Benefit of allowing §1983 lawsuits for violation of Miranda violations

Allowing the victim of a Miranda violation to sue a police officer for damages under §1983 would have little additional deterrent value, and permitting such claims would cause many problems.

Allowing a claim like Tekoh’s would disserve judicial economy, by requiring a federal judge or jury to adjudicate a factual question (whether Tekoh was in custody when questioned) that had already been decided by a state court.

Allowing §1983 suits based on Miranda claims could also present many procedural issues, such as whether a federal court considering a §1983 claim would owe any deference to a trial court’s factual findings; whether forfeiture and plain error rules carry over from the criminal trial; whether harmless error rules apply; and whether civil damages are available in instances where the unwarned statement had no impact on the outcome of the criminal case.

We therefore refuse to extend Miranda in the way Tekoh requests. Miranda, Dickerson, and the other cases in that line provide sufficient protection for the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. The identification of a Miranda violation and its consequences ought to be determined at trial. And except in unusual circumstances, the exclusion of unwarned statements should be a complete and sufficient remedy.

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 §1983, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.