It wasn’t the most controversial or widely covered decision handed down at the end of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term last month. However, a decision regarding Miranda rights still got a lot of people’s attention – and caused some confusion.
Let’s sort out what the decision was and what it means for anyone who is questioned by police, arrested and charged with a crime.
What was the case about?
The case was brought by a hospital employee charged with sexually assaulting an incapacitated patient. He claimed that he wasn’t read his Miranda rights before he confessed to a deputy sheriff.
Whether the confession was voluntary or coerced is a matter of dispute. However, he wasn’t under arrest or in custody at the time of his confession. Therefore, the confession was allowed into evidence at trial. Despite that, the defendant was acquitted.
The defendant nonetheless sued the officer for violating his Fifth Amendment rights. A lower court upheld his right to sue a government employee for violating his constitutional rights.
The decision and the dissent
The Supreme Court, however, ruled against him in a 6-3 decision, with the court’s three liberal justices dissenting. The ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said that the lower court decision could potentially “saddle police departments nationwide with extraordinary burdens in connection with lawful and appropriate investigative work.”
In the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argued that if it’s agreed that Miranda rights are part of a person’s constitutional rights, “then a person may sue a state actor who deprives him of the right.”
What does the case mean for Miranda rights?
The decision has sparked some controversy around whether it diminishes the protections provided by Miranda rights. However, it doesn’t prevent a defendant from seeking to prevent any evidence — including a confession — from being used against them if it’s not obtained legally. It only addresses the question of whether they can sue the officer whom they say deprived them of their rights.
This case does show why it’s crucial not to answer any questions by a law enforcement officer, whether you’re under arrest or not until you’ve obtained legal guidance. This is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected.