What's at Stake
May a person sue a police officer under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by engaging in a custodial interrogation without issuing a Miranda warning and facilitating the introduction of their unwarned statement at their criminal trial?
Petitioner Carlos Vega, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, was investigating an alleged sexual assault against an immobilized female patient at a local hospital. After the patient identified Respondent Terence Tekoh as the perpetrator, Vega questioned Tekoh at the hospital and received his signed confession to the assault. During Tekoh’s state criminal proceedings, two judges concluded that the confession was admissible at trial—even though Vega had not given Tekoh a Miranda warning—because Tekoh was not in custody when the questioning occurred. In Tekoh’s criminal trial, after hearing testimony from Tekoh and his co-workers that contradicted Vega’s account, along with expert testimony on coercive interrogation practices, the criminal jury acquitted him.
In a later-filed civil action for various civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Tekoh testified that he was simply doing his job when a police office, Carlos Vega ordered him into a small, windowless room and refused others’ entry. Vega then proceeded to interrogate Tekoh, alleging that he had molested a patient while transporting her. Vega threatened Tekoh with violence, flashing his gun. He warned Tekoh, an immigrant, that he and his family members would face deportation back to the country he and his family had fled in fear of persecution. And he used racist language. Vega would not permit Tekoh to leave the room, and he ignored Tekoh’s pleas to see a lawyer or talk to his co-workers and supervisors. Vega ultimately extracted a false letter of apology that Vega himself dictated, which Tekoh maintains will be shown to be wholly unreliable. Following his interrogation of Tekoh, Vega also “prepared the incident report, and personally signed the probable cause declaration.” Vega’s account was that the interrogation and confession were voluntary.
After two civil trials, the jury found for Vega, including on Tekoh’s claim for a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Tekoh appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Tekoh was entitled to a jury instruction that the introduction of his unwarned statement at trial could give rise to a Miranda violation, and remanding for a new trial. The Supreme Court granted cert in January 2022 and held oral argument on April 20, 2022. The ACLU filed an amicus brief, joined by the Cato Institute, in support of Tekoh.