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By: Parisa Saleki
The Ninth Circuit recently held that where a police officer obtains a suspect’s statements in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and prosecutors introduce those statements at a state criminal trial, the suspect may assert a §1983 claim for damages against the officer. Tekoh v. County of Los Angeles, 985 F.3d 713 (9th Cir. 2021).
Terence Tekoh was charged in California state court with sexual assault. At his criminal trial, a prosecutor introduced Tekoh’s confession. The defense team argued that the confession was coerced and presented expert testimony on the issue. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Tekoh then sued in federal district court under §1983, alleging that his confession was obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Tekoh’s attorney “asked the district court to instruct the jury to find in his favor on the Fifth Amendment claim if it determined that [the officer] obtained statements from him in violation of Miranda that were used in the criminal case against him.” Tekoh, 985 F.3d at 716-17. The proposed instructions also informed the jury of factors to determine whether Tekoh’s interrogation was custodial. Id. at 717. The district court refused to instruct the jury on the Miranda claim, citing Supreme Court precedent that barred Miranda-based §1983 claims and held Miranda is a “prophylactic rule” rather than a constitutional mandate. Tekoh, 985 F.3d at 717; see Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003). Instead, the district court gave the jury a “totality of circumstances” instruction to determine whether Tekoh’s confession was improperly coerced. The instruction detailed factors the jury could consider, including: (1) where the interrogation took place; (2) whether Tekoh was “free to go or was [he] under arrest or physically restrained”; (3) the length of the questioning; (4) what the deputies told Tekoh before, during, and after the interrogation; (5) whether the officers used or threatened to use force; and (6) whether the police informed Tekoh of his rights to remain silent and to counsel. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the officer.
Tekoh appealed to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the district court’s failure to instruct the jury on his Miranda claim was a prejudicial error. The Ninth Circuit agreed. The underlying decision was reversed and remanded for a new trial.
The circuit court found that the district court erred in its analysis of Supreme Court precedent (specifically, Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003)). The circuit court found that the controlling precedent was Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, which held that an individual’s right to Miranda warnings before custodial interrogation is a federal constitutional right. The circuit court held that Tekoh had an actionable §1983 claim because his “un-Mirandized statements were used against him in criminal proceedings.” 985 F.3d at 721. The Ninth Circuit concluded that “the use of an un-Mirandized statement against a defendant in a criminal proceeding violates the Fifth Amendment and may support a §1983 claim.” 985 F.3d at 722 (footnote omitted). On remand, the circuit court mandated that the jury “must be properly instructed that the introduction of a defendant’s un-Mirandized statement at his criminal trial during the prosecution’s case-in-chief alone is sufficient to establish a Fifth Amendment violation.” 985 F.3d at 726. Critically, the circuit court limited its decision to cases in which un-Mirandized statements are introduced against a criminal defendant in the prosecutor’s case-in-chief.
Of note, if a criminal defendant is convicted in state court, a §1983 Miranda claim would likely implicate the validity of the conviction. Therefore, the claim would bring rise to the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Under Heck, a §1983 claim that necessarily implicates the validity of the plaintiff’s conviction is not cognizable unless and until the conviction is overturned. The Heck doctrine was not at issue in Tekoh (Terrence Tekoh was acquitted). However, this critical point must be considered by attorneys who defend §1983 cases.
At FMG, we have the experience and expertise to handle these complex cases. Our Appellate Practice Group can consult with trial attorneys handling similar issues to ensure that our clients’ favorable results are not overturned on appeal like they were in Tekoh.
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Parisa Saleki at firstname.lastname@example.org or your FMG relationship partner.