I’ve always known that police officers get special treatment when accused of a crime, but I always assumed it was just a good deal that the cops gave to other cops. I never knew there was an official court ruling about it.
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved it with what came to be known as the Garrity Rule. It says a public employee can be compelled by threat of discipline to admit criminal activity, but the information cannot be used for prosecution.
Wikipedia puts it a slightly different way:
The Garrity warning is an advisement of rights usually administered by US federal agents to federal employees and contractors in internal investigations. The Garrity warning advises suspects of their criminal and administrative liability for any statements they may make, but also advises suspects of their right to remain silent on any issues that tend to implicate them in a crime. It was promulgated by the US Supreme Court in Garrity v. New Jersey (1967). In that case, a police officer was compelled to make a statement or be fired, and then criminally prosecuted for his statement. The Supreme Court found that the officer had been deprived of his Fifth Amendment right to silence.
I don’t understand this ruling at all.
If my boss thinks I committed a crime, he can ask me questions about it. As far as I know, if I refuse to answer, it’s perfectly legal for him to terminate my employment. (There may be unemployment compensation issues.) And if I answer, he’s free to take my statements to the police so I can be prosecuted. Why should any of that change if I’m working for the police department?
To put this in perspective, consider what can happen if a prosecutor charges me with a crime and gets the judge to set bail high enough that I’m stuck in jail for months. There’s nothing to stop the prosecutor from offering me a deal that will get me out of jail with time served if I plead guilty.
So, to summarize:
- Threat of jail: Not a violation of the right to remain silent.
- Threat of being fired: Violation of the right to remain silent (cops only).
Am I missing some nuance, some subtle principle of law, that makes this make sense?
One more thing from Wikipedia about the Garrity Rule:
The Garrity warning helps to ensure suspects’ constitutional rights, while also helping federal agents preserve the evidentiary value of statements provided by suspects in concurrent administrative and criminal investigations.
Perhap—I’m willing to listen to a good argument explaining why I’m wrong—but living in Chicago, I can tell you something else the Garrity warning helps ensure: Police department coverups. By “forcing” an officer to give a statement, the department can keep his statements from being used against him by a prosecutor, or ever reaching the media.
In the Post-Dispatch story above, the coverup is pretty clear:
In the World Series case, internal affairs assigned two detectives to concurrent investigations. One, focused on internal discipline, did the Garrity interviews and put together a file for administrative use. The other was barred from the Garrity material and assigned to see if there was enough other evidence to support criminal charges.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who was highly critical of the officers who let their friends and family use the tickets, could examine only the latter file before announcing there was no evidence of a crime.
The St. Louis Police Department told [Circuit Judge Philip Heagney ] Feb. 8 that Garrity prevents it from fully complying with his Dec. 11 order to provide an activist with its files on officers disciplined for using 2006 World Series tickets seized from illicit scalpers.
Police officials claim the interviews are private, as personnel records.
So the prosecutor’s office can’t get all the evidence the police have gathered (which sounds like obstruction to me) and no one outside the police department ever gets to see it either.
No way that could go wrong.