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SUPREME COURT RULINGS

It's 'Just Wrong,' Says the Plaintiff

Oliverio Martinez is blind and paralyzed, and lives in a cramped trailer. He attributes his problems to his shooting by Oxnard police.

May 28, 2003|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

The absence of a "criminal case" in which Martinez was compelled to be a "witness" against himself defeats his core 5th Amendment claim. The 9th Circuit's view that mere compulsion violates the Self-Incrimination Clause ... finds no support in the text of the 5th Amendment and is irreconcilable with our case law.... Because we find that [Sgt. Ben] Chavez's alleged conduct did not violate the Self-Incrimination Clause, we reverse the 9th Circuit's denial of qualified immunity as to Martinez's 5th Amendment claim.

Our views on the proper scope of the 5th Amendment's Self-Incrimination Clause do not mean that police torture or other abuse that results in a confession is constitutionally permissible so long as the statements are not used at trial; it simply means that the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause, rather than the 5th Amendment's Self-Incrimination Clause, would govern the inquiry in those cases and provide relief in appropriate circumstances....

We are satisfied that Chavez's questioning did not violate Martinez's due process rights. Even assuming ... that the persistent questioning of Martinez somehow deprived him of a liberty interest, we cannot agree with Martinez's characterization of Chavez's behavior as "egregious" or "conscience shocking."

Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in part:

As a matter of fact, the interrogation of respondent was the functional equivalent of an attempt to obtain an involuntary confession from a prisoner by torturous methods. As a matter of law, that type of brutal police conduct constitutes an immediate deprivation of the prisoner's constitutionally protected interest in liberty.

Because these propositions are so clear, the District Court and the Court of Appeals correctly held that petitioner is not entitled to qualified immunity....

The sound recording of this interrogation, which has been lodged with the Court, vividly demonstrates that respondent was suffering severe pain and mental anguish throughout petitioner's persistent questioning....

The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protects individuals against state action that either " 'shocks the conscience' ... or interferes with rights 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.' " In Palko [vs. Connecticut], the majority of the court refused to hold that every violation of the 5th Amendment satisfied the second standard.

In a host of other cases, however, the Court has held that unusually coercive police interrogation procedures do violate that standard.

By its terms, the 5th Amendment itself has no application to the States.

It is, however, one source of the protections against state actions that deprive individuals of rights "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty" that the 14th Amendment guarantees. Indeed, as I pointed out in my dissent in Oregon v. Elstad ... is the most specific provision in the Bill of Rights "that protects all citizens from the kind of custodial interrogation that was once employed by the Star Chamber, by 'the Germans of the 1930s and early 1940s,' and by some of our own police departments only a few decades ago."

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