Supreme Court set to rule on whether Miranda warnings are a constitutional right

The nation's high court will rule on a case that involves a health care worker who was questioned by law enforcement without being read his Miranda warning.

The United States Supreme Court may soon decide whether or not police officers can face civil lawsuits if they fail to read Miranda warnings to suspects.

The case that the nation’s high court is weighing involves an incident in Los Angles which led to a suspect being questioned without hearing his rights. The outcome of this Supreme Court decision may answer a question that has gone unresolved for decades — are Miranda warnings a constitutional right?

In Miranda vs. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled, in 1966, that police must read defendants their rights before beginning any interrogation. The language of the Miranda warning is as follows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

While the court has ruled on the legality of Miranda warnings, it has not ruled on whether hearing them is a constitutional right in and of itself.

That’s one of the questions raised by the lawsuit, Terence Tekoh vs. County of Los Angeles. A patient accused Tekoh, a hospital nursing assistant, of sexual assault, and the health care facility alerted authorities.

Carlos Vega, a deputy with the Los Angeles Police Department, questioned Tekoh and he eventually signed a confession. Tekoh claimed the interaction was very contentious, while Vega said otherwise. Tekoh said Vega never read him his Miranda warning — a fact that is not in dispute, according to the New York Times.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Tekoh was arrested in connection with unlawful sexual penetration, charged in state court and eventually acquitted. He then sued Vega under a federal civil rights law that allows citizens sue officials, including law enforcement, over constitutional rights violations.

Vega’s attorney has argued, according to a Supreme Court brief, not reading a Miranda warning doesn’t violate a constitutional right.

While weighing the facts of the case, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett each noted that previous courts have stopped short of calling Miranda warnings a “constitutional right,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Vega is appealing a 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling that agreed that Tekoh’s constitutional rights had been violated. The lower court’s ruling said, in part: “The right of a criminal defendant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced in the prosecution’s case in chief is indeed a right secured by the Constitution.”

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