Miranda v. Arizona1 is perhaps the best-known criminal justice decision in American history,2 bringing the privilege against self-incrimination “to the informal proceedings in the interrogation room”3 and establishing the set of eponymous warnings deemed necessary to “dispel the compelling pressure of custodial interrogation.”4 Miranda spawned vigorous academic debate over both its effectiveness5 and legitimacy,6 with vocal critics calling for the decision to be overturned.7 Nonetheless, when the Supreme Court last explicitly considered overruling Miranda two decades ago in Dickerson v. United States,8 it rightly concluded that “the principles of stare decisis weigh heavily against overruling it.”9 Last Term, in Vega v. Tekoh,10 the Supreme Court held that the admission of a criminal defendant’s un-Mirandized statement at trial does not constitute “the deprivation of [a] right . . . secured by the Constitution” and thus does not allow the defendant to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.11 While the Court claimed to accept Dickerson on its own terms that Miranda provided a constitutionally based right,12 it nonetheless held that Miranda did not establish a right “secured” by the Constitution within the meaning of § 1983.13 This subversion of Dickerson could be the first step to overcoming principles of stare decisis and augurs a future in which the Court may overrule Miranda.
On March 19, 2014, Terence Tekoh was accused by a patient of sexual assault while working as a certified nurse assistant at a medical center in Los Angeles.14 Hospital staff reported the allegation to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,15 and Deputy Carlos Vega responded.16 In a private room, Vega questioned Tekoh about the incident without advising Tekoh of his rights under Miranda.17 By the end of the questioning, Tekoh had produced a statement admitting to and apologizing for inappropriately touching the patient’s genitals.18 However, the parties offered diverging accounts of how the statement came to be: Vega claimed that Tekoh immediately admitted to making “a mistake” and that Tekoh wrote the statement upon simply being asked to write what happened, all prior to any questioning.19 Meanwhile, Tekoh alleged that Vega questioned Tekoh for more than half an hour while Tekoh repeatedly refused to confess, denied Tekoh’s request for a lawyer, and ultimately dictated the written confession to Tekoh.20
Tekoh was charged in California state court with unlawful sexual penetration.21 Although the prosecution introduced Tekoh’s un-Mirandized confession at trial, Tekoh was acquitted.22 Tekoh subsequently filed an action in the Central District of California under § 1983 against Vega and several other defendants,23 seeking damages for violations of his constitutional rights, including his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination by way of a “coercive and illegal interrogation in violation of Miranda.”24 At trial, Tekoh proposed a jury instruction that would allow the jury to find that having the fruit of an illegal interrogation in violation of Miranda used against him in a criminal case was “a violation of the Fifth Amendment actionable under § 1983.”25 However, his proposed jury instruction was denied and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants.26 As such, Tekoh moved for a new trial, arguing, inter alia, that the court erroneously failed to give his proposed instruction.27
The district court rejected Tekoh’s claim regarding his proposed instruction, observing that Supreme Court precedent “strongly suggest[ed] that § 1983 liability will not attach to a technical violation of Miranda” alone and would require a further showing of “improper force or duress.”28 The court first noted the plurality opinion in Chavez v. Martinez,29 which held that an officer’s failure to read Miranda warnings alone did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.30 The court then noted another plurality opinion in United States v. Patane,31 which held that the failure to give Miranda warnings alone could not “violate a suspect’s constitutional rights or even the Miranda rule.”32 Therefore, the court found that it did not err when it refused to give Tekoh’s proposed instruction.33 And, although the court granted Tekoh’s motion for a new trial on other grounds,34 the jury at the new trial again returned for Vega.35 Tekoh appealed.36
The Ninth Circuit vacated, reversed, and remanded.37 The panel based its judgment on Dickerson, where the Court held that Miranda was “a constitutional decision” that Congress could not overrule.38 Noting that Dickerson “made clear” that the right of a criminal defen-dant against having an un-Mirandized statement introduced against him “is indeed a right secured by the Constitution,” the panel concluded that Tekoh had a valid claim under § 1983 that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was violated.39 The panel also noted that the district court “went astray” in its reading of the fractured pluralities in Chavez and Patane: because the narrowest grounds for the specific results in both cases were inapplicable to the facts at hand, neither case supplied binding precedent.40 Vega petitioned for rehearing en banc, but the petition was denied.41
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded.42 Writing for the Court, Justice Alito43 held that because a violation of Miranda at trial is not itself a violation of the Fifth Amendment and a cost-benefit analysis does not provide justification to expand Miranda, a violation of Miranda alone could not provide the basis for a claim under § 1983.44 First, the Court noted that Miranda “was clear” in that it never “state[d] that a violation of its new rules constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment,” which would require some further showing of “compelled self-incrimination.”45 Further, Justice Alito explained that since Miranda, the Court had “repeatedly described” the Miranda rules as “prophylactic,” citing to twenty of its decisions handed down since Miranda.46 Justice Alito then characterized several of those decisions as “charting the dimensions” of the rules using cost-benefit analysis and, in some cases, “justif[ying] restrictions” on the rules that could not be possible if Miranda was part of the core Fifth Amendment right.47
The Court then explained that “Dickerson did not upend the Court’s understanding of the Miranda rules as prophylactic.”48 The Court acknowledged that Dickerson claimed authority to “create constitutionally based prophylactic rules that bind both federal and state courts,” and purported to “follow its rationale” to decide Vega.49 However, Justice Alito noted, even accepting Dickerson’s “bold” claim that Miranda’s “constitutional rule” could not be superseded by legislation, it “clear[ly]” did not equate a Miranda violation with an “outright Fifth Amendment violation.”50 As such, the Court found no precedent suggesting that a Miranda violation “necessarily constitute[s]” a constitutional violation, and the Court held that a Miranda violation alone could not constitute the “deprivation of [a] right . . . secured by the Constitution” under § 1983.51 Finally, the Court declined to “expand” the “law” of Miranda to include a claim under § 1983 based on a cost-benefit analysis.52
Justice Kagan dissented.53 She first noted the Court’s previous expansive constructions of the “broad language” of § 1983.54 Explaining that Dickerson “ma[de] plain” that Miranda has “all the substance of a constitutional rule,” Justice Kagan concluded that Miranda clearly was “secured by the Constitution” within the meaning of § 1983.55 She then noted that Miranda’s constitutional rule clearly gives a “correlative ‘right’” within the meaning of § 1983 to be tried without the pros-ecution using an un-Mirandized statement.56 Combining those two premises, she concluded that, even if Miranda extended beyond the Fifth Amendment’s “core guarantee,” it should still be “enforceable through § 1983.”57
The Vega Court purported to sidestep the debate over its authority to create constitutionally based prophylactic rules. After all, the Court chose to acknowledge that while Miranda swept more broadly than the constitutional minimum, it still created a constitutional rule, and likewise that in Dickerson, the Court previously used the constitutional basis of the prophylactic rule to hold that Miranda could not be superseded by statute. However, instead of leaning into the constitutional nature of the rule, as the Court did in Dickerson, to find a corresponding right under § 1983, the Vega Court reiterated the rule’s prophylactic nature as the reason why it did not establish a right “secured” by the Constitution for the purposes of § 1983. This subtle subversion of the driving rationale behind Dickerson in the context of § 1983 signals the Court’s potential willingness to overturn Miranda and could be a stepping stone to overcoming the principles of stare decisis.
Although Miranda could in isolation be read to hold that any admission of an un-Mirandized statement squarely violates the Constitution, the Court has since backed away from that reading and couched the rule in the flavor of constitutional prophylaxis. In Miranda, noting compulsion as the touchstone of classic Fifth Amendment analysis,58 the Court fashioned a set of warnings to protect against the “compulsion inherent in custodial surroundings.”59 Miranda noted that any unwarned custodial interrogation creates pressure sufficient to constitute compulsion and could thus be read to hold that the admission of any un-Mirandized statement elicited in such a manner flatly violates the Fifth Amendment.60 However, in the decades following Miranda, the Court backed away from that strong reading, instead reaching holdings that could only be consistent with the view that the “Miranda exclusionary rule . . . sweeps more broadly than the Fifth Amendment itself.”61
Nonetheless, when the Court in Dickerson considered the validity of a federal statute intended to overrule Miranda, it reinforced the constitutional nature of Miranda and emphatically declined to overrule it. In response to 18 U.S.C. § 3501, which intended to change the touchstone of confession admissibility from whether a statement was Mirandized to whether it was voluntary,62 the Court in Dickerson reiterated that Miranda was “a constitutional decision” that “announced a constitutional rule.”63 Thus, even though the Court did not go as far as to hold that Miranda warnings were “required by the Constitution, in the sense that nothing else [would] suffice to satisfy constitutional requirements,” it still leaned into Miranda’s constitutional basis and held that Miranda was a constitutional rule that could not be “supersede[d] legislatively.”64
Since Dickerson, there has been great debate among both jurists and commentators over “[w]hether [the] Court has the authority to create constitutionally based prophylactic rules that bind both federal and state courts.”65 Prophylactic constitutional rules, as defined by the Court, are those that sweep more broadly than the underlying constitutional right.66 Some, like the late Justice Scalia and Professor Joseph Grano, have argued that such rules are illegitimate judicial legislation and overstep the Court’s Article III power.67 Others, such as Professors David Strauss and Susan Klein, have argued that such rules are the result of the interpretation that the Constitution itself requires prophylaxis, and thus are legitimate, necessary, and even broadly used.68
Although the Court in Vega claimed to accept Dickerson’s legitimacy, its reasoning and holding in fact deeply undermined the foundations of Dickerson. While acknowledging the scholarly divide over the Court’s actions in Dickerson, the Court purported to remain faithful to Dickerson’s rationale “for the purpose of deciding [Vega],” “accept[ing] it on its own terms” and not “disturb[ing]” the caselaw.69 But Vega largely departed from the reasoning that undergirded Dickerson. Dickerson read Miranda to establish a “constitutional prophylactic rule” based on “what is required to safeguard that constitutional right.”70 In other words, Dickerson relied on the constitutional power of Miranda to hold that it could not be superseded legislatively in spite of its prophylactic nature.
The Vega Court did the opposite, holding that in the § 1983 context, Miranda’s prophylactic nature was dispositive. As Justice Kagan argued in dissent, a faithful application of Dickerson’s rationale to § 1983 would conclude that though Miranda’s rule is prophylactic, it is still a “constitutional rule” that secures a corollary “right,” the loss of which should be enforceable under § 1983.71 After all, as she and other scholars have observed, the Court has generally construed § 1983 broadly and found that a variety of other implied or prophylactic constitutional rules, like the one recognized in Dickerson, all confer a constitutional right “‘encompassed within’ § 1983.”72 Thus, a straightforward application of the rationale that Miranda was constitutional enough to be impervious to legislative overruling would have found the corresponding § 1983 right to be constitutionally secured.73 Instead, the Vega Court concluded that Miranda did not grant such a right on account of its prophylactic nature,74 in spite of its constitutional basis and in contravention of the plain text of § 1983. By denying that Miranda established a “right . . . secured by the Constitution,”75 the Vega Court necessarily diminished the force of the constitutional status that Miranda’s prophylactic rule was afforded in Dickerson.
The Court’s subversion of Dickerson opens the door to and signals a distressing potential future in which Miranda may be overturned entirely. When the Court last explicitly declined to overrule Miranda in Dickerson, it noted that while it had “overruled . . . precedents when subsequent cases have undermined their doctrinal underpinnings,” it did not “believe that this has happened to the Miranda decision.”76 Following that logic, in order for a future Court to overturn Miranda, a previous Court would first need to undermine its “doctrinal underpinnings,” and Vega was a perfect vehicle for the Court to begin undermin-ing Miranda’s progeny. Civil cases presenting facts like that of Vega rarely arise: a criminal defendant must have an un-Mirandized statement improperly admitted against him at trial but nevertheless be acquitted and bring the § 1983 claim solely on the failure to give Miranda warnings.77 Tekoh’s plight thus provided a unique opportunity to revisit the reasoning underlying Miranda without needing to overrule its core holding.78 While being of dubious practical value,79 Vega allowed the Court to hold only that Miranda should not be expanded to the § 1983 context while its reasoning swept further to undermine Dickerson and Miranda.80
While an overruling of Miranda might have once been unthinkably radical, it seems increasingly possible in light of the Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.81 When the Court last refused to overrule Miranda in Dickerson, its decision rested on principles of stare decisis that “weigh[ed] heavily against overruling.”82 The Court noted that departures from precedent require “special justification,” and the Court found no such justification, noting Miranda’s solid doctrinal underpinnings and cultural relevance.83 So despite the continuing debate and controversy surrounding Miranda,84 a supermajority of the Court concluded that it should not and would not reverse enough caselaw to return to the pre-Miranda days.85
Nonetheless, in the ensuing twenty years, the Court’s composition has changed.86 One need only turn a few pages in the U.S. Reports to find Dobbs, where the Court overturned the longstanding decision of Roe v. Wade87 that established the constitutional right to abortion and repudiated the principles of stare decisis that had upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.88 Roe and Miranda share some similarities: Both were landmark decisions from a half century ago establishing rights not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.89 Both have since been heavily debated, argued by some to be constitutional rights90 and by others to be overreaching judicial legislation.91 And both were upheld against challenges decades later, largely on the force of stare decisis.92 Now that stare decisis has failed to save even Roe,93 which protected a bona fide constitutional right, Miranda — protecting only a prophylactic constitutional rule now shaken and subject to aspersion by the Vega Court94 — may fall next.
In Vega, the Court claimed to accept Dickerson’s rationale that Miranda established a constitutionally based right that could not be legislatively overruled. But, in spite of that constitutional basis, it held that Miranda did not create a right for the purposes of § 1983 on account of its prophylactic nature, thus subverting Dickerson’s underlying reasoning. As Justice Kagan noted in dissent, this holding certainly hollowed out Miranda and “injures the right by denying the remedy.”95 But for a Court increasingly less beholden to stare decisis, Vega goes further and provides a recipe for striking down rights framed in constitutional prophylaxis: begin by limiting § 1983 liability to weaken the constitutional foundations of any such right. One need look no further than Vega to see the possibilities: the Court’s crippling of the doctrinal underpinnings of Dickerson weakened the principles of stare decisis as applied to Miranda and opened the door for the Court to overturn Miranda itself.