Rights of the Acccused

Via Unsplash.

The controversial Supreme Court decision involving the famous Miranda rights was overshadowed by other decisions released the same week, but is also worthy of concern, according to an SIUE professor who hosted a lecture and discussion on campus last week.

The case involves Terence Tekoh, who sued officer Carlos Vega after he didn’t read Tekoh his rights. Tekoh was found not guilty at trial, but still pursued a suit against Vega.

Kenneth Moffett is the chair of the Political Science Department and a professor of political science at SIUE. He hosted the lecture because he believed that it was important to inform people about the rights of the accused following the decision.

“This case made its way to the Supreme Court through the appeals process, and the Supreme Court ruled that individual police officers cannot be sued for not informing criminal suspects of their rights,” Moffett said. “The only remedy is that the relevant evidence can be excluded at trial.”

This decision was reached on June 23, just one day before the Supreme Court overturnedRoe v. Wade, which had made abortion legal for nearly 50 years. Another decision that overshadowed Vega v. Tekoh was the NYSRPA v. Bruen decision that restricted gun control in New York state.

“The gun control decision got announced, that took up a significant amount of press that day. The next day, the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade got announced. Those two took up media attention, and this decision [Vega v. Tekoh] would have gotten more attention given some of the implications of it, like for example rights being denied at the time with only an after the fact remedy, but because public attention was focused on guns and abortion at the time, this decision flew under the radar… it’s a limitation on the rights of the accused,” Moffett said.

Opinions seem to split based upon whether Miranda is itself a right. Tim Kalinowski, a professor of political science, believes that Miranda rights aren’t a right and that the decision doesn’t change much.

“All Miranda does is warn you of your rights, it itself is not a right,” Kalinowski said.

Kalinowski would later make the distinction of calling them Miranda warnings as opposed to Miranda rights.

“The trial court heard his objection, that he wasn’t read his Miranda rights, and said that it was because he wasn’t in custody. Even with the confession, the jury acquitted, so he then sues the police officer for not having read his Miranda rights. This Court said that under Section 1983, you must have a right violated, and there was no right here, he wasn’t in custody, so Miranda didn’t apply,” Kalinowski said.

Kalinowski doesn’t believe that protecting individual officers from being sued will have any effect on the reading of rights to suspects

“Police officers want a conviction, so they’re going to read them their rights, or warnings, because they’re going to want the conviction and if they don’t read the warnings in a custody situation, then any evidence found would be excluded,” Kalinowski said. “All this really does is keep police officers from getting sued every time someone thinks they should have been read their Miranda warnings.

Given the recent decisions, some have wondered what the Supreme Court may do next. Such  an example is a case involving affirmative action, notably in the school admissions process. Moffett said it may be reasonable to assume that this may be overturned, but a majority conservative Supreme Court does not always set conservative public policy, and so only time can tell.

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