Editorial Roundup: High court undermines police Miranda warning

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has garnered all of the public’s attention, but the court has had other recent rulings that have chipped away at civil rights.

In Vega v. Tekoh, the conservative majority on the court undercut the nearly 60-year-old precedent that established what have come to be known as Miranda rights, which includes the well known phrase: “You have the right to remain silent.”

Requiring police to read Miranda rights to suspects before they are questioned or arrested helps ensure people know they have the right not to incriminate themselves and to talk with an attorney before answering questions.

But in a 6-3 decision the court ruled that if suspects are not read their Miranda rights, they cannot sue law enforcement or other government officials for damages.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, admitted Miranda rights do have roots in the Constitution, but said that officers who violate the reading of rights shouldn’t be open to lawsuits because it “would cause many problems.”

Supporters of the majority decision say defendants who aren’t read their Miranda rights will still have the right to suppress improperly obtained evidence at trial.

But Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the minority, noted that “sometimes, such a statement will not be suppressed. And sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongly” prosecuted, “convicted and spend years in prison,” without any redress.

The Miranda ruling was another in a series of decisions by the high court that adds to “qualified immunity,” shielding police, prison guards, border agents and other government officials from facing legal consequences for their misconduct.

Law enforcement officials are given broad powers, including the ability to detain, question and arrest people. Those powers are necessary to provide law and order.

But when officers — or other government officials — abuse their powers and violate people’s constitutional rights there must be a legal recourse to hold them accountable. Unfortunately, this court has been doing all it can to send the message that government officials shouldn’t be held accountable for their bad actions.

Mankato Free Press, July 12