Police officers in the US who do not read the right to silence cannot be sued

The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police officers cannot be sued in civil cases by detainees who were not read the rights to remain silent and have an attorney, known as Miranda warnings.

In the high court’s view, law enforcement officers cannot be sued when they fail to provide warnings of the right to remain silent to a suspect because the warnings "are not constitutional rights in themselves".

With a vote of 6 to 3, the judges of the highest court ruled in favor of Carlos Vega, an agent of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD, in English) who had been sued by Terence Tekoh, a suspect who did not like him. Miranda rights were read to him when he was questioning him about a sexual assault allegation in 2014.

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. considered that "a violation of Miranda warnings does not necessarily constitute a violation of the Constitution" so they don’t see "rationale for expanding Miranda rights to confer the right to sue".

For her part, Judge Elena Kagan said that the decision "strips people of the possibility of seeking a remedy for violations of the right recognized in Miranda".

For Brett Max Kaufman, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ruling "further widens the gap between the guarantees found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the ability of people to hold government officials accountable".

The ACLU had filed a brief in favor of Tekoh, who was questioned by Vega for an alleged assault on a patient at a Los Angeles hospital.

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Vega said Tekoh agreed to write a full confession but claimed the officer did not read the Miranda warnings to him and denied him the right to call an attorney.

Tekoh’s alleged confession was presented as evidence at his trial. Still, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury found him not guilty.

Tekoh then sued Vega in federal court accusing him of violating his rights by failing to inform him of the Miranda warnings and forcing him to confess to a crime.

Several police organizations had urged the Supreme Court to rule in Vega’s favor and protect police officers from being sued for questioning potential suspects.

This is the second time the Supreme Court has favored law enforcement officers this month.

On June 8, the judges ruled in favor of US Border Patrol agents, ruling that they cannot be sued in federal court in cases of alleged constitutional violations.

In the decision, the justices cited concerns that increased exposure of officers to lawsuits could negatively affect national security.

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