(Reuters) – A US Supreme Court decision on Thursday illustrated the extent to which the court has transformed a Reconstruction-era law meant to protect the rights of freed slaves and marginalized Americans into a formidable shield for the most powerful, including police, prosecutors and businesses.
The June 23 decision bars lawsuits against police for using evidence obtained without advising people of their rights – the ‘Miranda’ warnings the court mandated nearly 60 years ago that have since become the framework through which most Americans understand their rights against police intrusion.
The 6-3 ruling in Vega v. Tekoh, which was expectedly split along partisan lines, nullified essentially the only direct remedy available in those situations. (Police officers are notorious for evading internal discipline and legal consequence, even for conduct that constitutes a crime, like assaulting someone to compel a false confession.)
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Justice Elena Kagan noted in the dissent that the court’s ruling still allows a victim in a similar situation to suppress the improperly obtained evidence at trial.
But “sometimes, such a statement will not be suppressed,” Kagan wrote. “And sometimes, as a result, a defendant will be wrongly” prosecuted, “convicted and spend years in prison,” without any redress.
In fact, that was nearly exactly what happened in the case before the court.
Terence Tekoh, a nurse assistant, alleged that the Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy Carlos Vega didn’t Mirandize him and strong-armed him into confessing to sexual assault, including threatening Tekoh’s family with deportation. The state tried to convict him twice, but Tekoh has never been found guilty.
One of Tekoh’s lawyers told me that jurors urged him to sue after trial because many believed he’d suffered an injustice.
“He was found not guilty despite a supposed witness identification and a supposed