By Attorney John Goldpaugh

False or inaccurate information cannot be used against a law enforcement officer in subsequent criminal proceedings, according to a recent ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Court based the 5-2 decision on the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Officers Act (DLEOA) and went on to say: “To hold otherwise would defeat the Legislature’s stated intent to preclude the use of ‘any information.’”

The June 22, 2016 ruling was made in the People of the State of Michigan vs. Nevin Hughes case, involving Detroit Police Officer Nevin Hughes. Hughes was represented by Attorney John Goldpaugh in his appeal. The case stemmed from charges of obstruction of justice, misconduct in office, and assault and battery, against Officer Hughes (and other officers with respect to the obstruction of justice charge) arising out of a 2009 incident.

Officer Hughes and other officers made statements during an internal investigation by the Office of the Chief Investigator. All three officers were given their Garrity rights and subsequently, departmental charges were filed against Officer Hughes.

Once departmental charges had been addressed, Internal Affairs began a criminal investigation and a warrant was obtained against Hughes and the other two officers. The sole basis for the obstruction of justice charge was the alleged false statements given under Garrity to the Office of the Chief Investigator, according to the People. The district court bound Officer Hughes over on the misconduct in office and assault and battery charges during the preliminary examination and dismissed the obstruction of justice charges against him and the other officers.

The People appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision. They found that Garrity does not protect false statements and, relying on federal law, determined that false statements given during a Garrity interview could be used against the officers as substantive evidence for perjury and/or obstruction of justice. Those same statements could not be used against Officer Hughes or any other officer to support any other charges. In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals found the Law Enforcement Officers Act did not protect the officers and the matter was remanded back to district court.

Goldpaugh filed an application for leave to appeal on behalf of Officer Hughes in the Michigan Supreme Court. That application was granted, and oral arguments were heard Nov. 4, 2015. As indicated above, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a majority decision June 22, 2016, reversing the Court of Appeals and affirming the district court’s decision. The Supreme Court held that under the DLEOA, false or inaccurate information cannot be used against a law enforcement officer in any subsequent criminal proceedings. The Court wrote to hold otherwise would defeat the Legislature’s intent to preclude the use of any information that an officer is compelled to provide under the threat of employment sanctions.

The state Supreme Court went on to state that, while it agreed with the Court of Appeals that the Fifth Amendment, as interpreted in Garrity vs. New Jersey, does not compel this result, states may provide protections greater than those procured under the United States Constitution. The Court found that this is exactly what the Legislature did when it enacted the DLEOA in 2006 and the DLEOA does not distinguish between true and false statements.

John Goldpaugh has been representing Police Officers in the State of Michigan for over 35 years. He has been dealing with their rights both in criminal and departmental proceedings; and this is not limited to their Garrity rights. Questions are welcome 24 hours a day and may be directed to Goldpaugh’s office at (313) 963-822 or click here to link to his website.