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By Stone & Busailah, LLP | January 1, 2022 | Posted in PORAC LDF News

Violating Miranda Can Get You Sued in a §1983 Action

Stone Busailah, LLP


In Tekoh v. County of Los Angeles, an officer obtained a confession in a custodial interrogation and no Miranda warning was given. At trial, the defendant was found not guilty and sued under 42 USC §1983. The Ninth Circuit found that violating Miranda is a constitutional violation for which you can be sued in a federal civil rights action.


Terence Tekoh worked at a Los Angeles medical center, where he transported patients to and from their MRIs and their rooms. A patient accused Tekoh of sexual assault. According to the patient, Tekoh lifted her cover sheets and made sexual contact while transporting her within the hospital. Hospital staff reported the allegation to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and Deputy Vega responded to investigate. Though Deputy Vega questioned Tekoh, he did not advise him of his Miranda warnings. By the end of questioning, Tekoh had written out a confession.

Tekoh was arrested and charged with unlawful sexual penetration. During Tekoh’s criminal trial, the prosecution introduced his confession as evidence of his guilt. Even so, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

After his acquittal on the criminal charge, Tekoh filed an action under 42 USC §1983, seeking damages for an alleged violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by Deputy Vega. At the civil trial, the district court concluded that the use of the written confession alone was not enough to demonstrate a violation of the right against self-incrimination and, instead, instructed the jury that Tekoh had to show that the interrogation was unconstitutionally coercive or compelled under the circumstances. The jury, therefore, returned a verdict in favor of Deputy Vega, since the Constitution says “compelled” and Tekoh’s statement was voluntary.

The court of appeal had to decide whether the use of Tekoh’s statement in a criminal case was alone sufficient to support a §1983 action based on a Fifth Amendment violation. The court noted that neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit had directly addressed this precise question. The court of appeal reversed the district court’s ruling, citing the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of Miranda in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428 (2000), saying that Tekoh need only show his confession was taken without being read the Miranda warnings and used in trial to prove his §1983 claim against Deputy Vega.

It all boils down to this question: Is Miranda a right mandated by the Fifth Amendment, or is it a rule created by judges to safeguard people’s rights? Over 20 Supreme Court cases refer to Miranda warnings as merely “prophylactic,” a preventative measure, and not a constitutional law. In fact, six of the Supreme Court justices have agreed that the mere act of questioning a suspect without reading the Miranda warnings is not a basis for a §1983 lawsuit and that a “mere failure to give Miranda warnings does not, by itself, violate a suspect’s constitutional rights” (Chaves v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760, at 770).

This decision is also at odds with six other circuit courts, which all affirm that Miranda is a procedural safeguard and the remedy for its violation is exclusion (of evidence), not a §1983 lawsuit. The solution, except in California, for not reading someone’s rights is exclusion of evidence at the trial, not suing the police officer.


Law enforcement officers are being attacked on multiple fronts. Congress is considering abolishing the defense of qualified immunity for police officers in §1983 cases. The California Legislature just expanded the Bane Act to make it easier to bring an action against law enforcement officers for alleged rights violations. This is yet another example. Here, the Ninth Circuit expanded the ability of individuals to sue police officers.

Since other circuits have rejected the reasoning used by the court in this case, perhaps the Supreme Court will decide to review the case and resolve the conflict in the circuits. Until then, don’t forget to “read ’em their rights.” Otherwise, like Deputy Vega, you may be sued.

About the Author

Robert Rabe is Stone Busailah, LLP’s writs and appeals specialist. His 41 years practicing law include 16 years as a barrister, Supreme Court of England and Wales, practicing in London.