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What does the Supreme Court’s Miranda ruling mean for my criminal case?

We know Miranda rights are an important part of the criminal justice system. Before police can move forward with their investigation, they generally need to make sure the accused understands their rights. These rights are plainly listed in the Miranda warning — a warning we can likely recite because of its use on most cop dramas like Law and Order, Miami Vice, NYPD Blue, and many others.

Police who fail to go through this warning can face various consequences and may not be able to use evidence gathered during questioning to support the case.

But what are the consequences when an officer does not follow the rules and fails to give the Miranda warning? Can the individual that is the subject of the interrogation hold that officer accountable? That was the question before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in a recent case.

In this case, Los Angeles officers questioned a nurse assistant about allegations of sexual assault. During the interview, the accused claims the sheriff’s deputy threatened to deport his family if he did not write an apology letter to the alleged victim. The prosecution then attempted to use this letter as evidence to support criminal charges. Although the court ruled in his favor, the accused sought civil damages against the officer for violation of his rights. The case made it all the way to SCOTUS.

The prosecution asked SCOTUS to decide whether an individual can sue a police officer for violating their Constitutional rights if the officer does not give a Miranda warning. In its opinion, the Supreme Court made a distinction between the Miranda rights and Constitutional rights, noting that Miranda rights are a “set of rules” used to protect the Fifth Amendment. The SCOTUS majority found Miranda rights themselves are not Constitutional rights. As such, a violation of one’s Miranda rights does not qualify for the same legal remedies as a violation of one’s Constitutional rights.

It is important to highlight that Miranda rights still exist. This means that anything gathered by an officer who failed to follow proper protocol may not use that evidence at court. This could include confessions or tangible evidence like drugs or the results from a BAC test.

Those in favor of the ruling point to the presence of internal discipline for officers who fail to follow proper protocol, while those opposed argue that officers are often able to evade these consequences. Those who opposed the ruling, including some of the justices, also argue the ability to exclude evidence is not enough. This ruling effectively removes the ability for an individual to hold officers accountable if they purposely abuse their position of power and fail to honor Miranda rights.

What does this mean for my case?

First, as noted above, the law still requires police to provide Miranda warnings in certain situations. A failure to do so can mean any evidence gathered because of that interaction is not admissible in court, thus likely gutting their ability to move forward with criminal charges. Unfortunately, it does appear to take away the ability to go after individual officers who violated this right and hold them responsible through a civil lawsuit.