When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case that involved Miranda rights last month, there was some confusion and concern about what it means for anyone who is detained or arrested. One headline even said that the decision “further guts” these rights, which emanate from the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.
It’s important to understand what the decision did – and didn’t do – when it comes to these crucial rights.
The case before the court
The case involved a hospital employee who was charged with the sexual assault of an incapacitated. The attendant confessed his guilt to a sheriff’s deputy. He claimed later that the officer had coerced the confession in part by threatening deportation of his family and that he wasn’t read his rights before confessing.
Because the man wasn’t under arrest or in custody when he confessed, it was allowed to be used against him in court. Despite that and a witness who testified against him, he was not convicted.
The man nonetheless sued the sheriff’s deputy for violating his constitutional rights. An appellate court upheld his right to bring a lawsuit against the officer since he’s a government employee. The officer’s attorneys took the case to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled for the officer in a 6-3 decision. The ruling, supported by the court’s conservative majority, stated that allowing the suit to move forward could “saddle police departments nationwide with extraordinary burdens in connection with lawful and appropriate investigative work.”
The decision, in this case, addresses a person’s ability to sue a law enforcement officer for violating their constitutional rights. However, it doesn’t address the requirement to read them their Miranda rights when taking them into custody and interrogating them.
When a person’s rights are violated because they weren’t given the Miranda warning, a confession was coerced or any number of other things, the evidence gained as a result shouldn’t be used against them. Of course, in a stressful situation like police questioning, it’s understandable that someone may not know or assert their rights.
What everyone should know is that they have the right to have legal guidance before being interrogated. Knowing this one simple thing can help you protect your rights until you have the protection of someone who can do it for you.