Garrity v. New Jersey

PETITIONER: Edward J. Garrity, et al.
RESPONDENT: State of New Jersey
LOCATION: Bellmawr, New Jersey Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 13
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 385 US 493 (1967)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1966
DECIDED: Jan 16, 1967
GRANTED: Mar 21, 1966

ADVOCATES:
Alan B. Handler - for the appellee
Daniel L. O'Connor - for the appellants

Facts of the case

The Supreme Court of New Jersey ordered the Attorney General to investigate alleged irregularities in the handling of cases in the municipal courts of certain boroughs. As part of that investigation, police officers were brought in for questioning. They were told that anything they said might be used against them in a state criminal proceeding and that they could refuse to answer, but such refusal might be grounds for dismissal. The appellants represent a group of police officers who answered the questions and were charged with conspiracy to obstruct the administration of traffic laws. The appellants were convicted and they appealed by arguing that their statements were coerced by the threat of the loss of employment. The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the convictions.

Question

Does the threat of loss of employment constitute coercion that violates the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Garrity v. New Jersey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1966 in Garrity v. New Jersey

Earl Warren:

Number 13, Edward J. Garrity et al., appellants versus New Jersey.

Mr. O'Connor.

Daniel L. O'Connor:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The case which we are considering now is on appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey.

There are two cases which have been consolidated on this appeal both of which involved practically the same set of facts and the issues are identical.

The cases below involved police officers who were serving the boroughs of Bellmawr and Barrington in the State of New Jersey.

In the first case below, the appellants Garrity in virtue were indicted, tried and convicted.

There was a third defendant in that case a Mrs. Naglee who is not a party to this appeal by reason of the fact that she was deceased.

The second case involved three police officers of the borough of Barrington, Mrs. Holroyd, Elwell, and Murray.

As I've stated there's no basic dispute as to the facts in the case but because this case was allowed by this Court and jurisdiction -- the question of jurisdiction was deferred pending oral argument, I feel it necessary to go into the background before I reach the argument on jurisdiction.

This case had its inception in an order of the Supreme Court of New Jersey dated June 30, 1961 or in it directed the Attorney General for the state to conduct an investigation into the practice of downgrading traffic ticket violations in these two boroughs namely Bellmawr and Barrington.

Both order -- the order to investigate both boroughs was signed on the same date and the Attorney General designated one of his deputies to conduct the investigation.

During the course of the investigation, it became necessary to take oral testimony of the defendants.

The New Jersey in 1953 enacted a state statute which became very pertinent in the taking of the statements in which is the reason why we're here today.

Briefly, that statute provided it's denominated the generally is the official conduct statute and statutes of this type are not strangers to this Court.

It provides briefly, that any person holding public office who haven't been sworn, refuses to testify or to answer any material question upon the ground that his answer may tend to incriminate him or compel him to be a witness against himself shall if holding public office be removed that forfeit his office, position or employment and any vested or future right or tenure, and pensions granted to him.

That then goes on provide that he shall not be eligible to hold public office in the State of New Jersey for ever after.

Now, prior to taking the statements and after swearing the defendants, the investigating Deputy Attorney General gave a warning in which he advised each defendant of his right not to incriminate himself but explain to them that if he -- if they made a disclosure then they would have to answer questions on all other -- answer all other questions which were asked.

And then after advising them of their right not to testify, he went on to nullify that right by saying, “but because you are police officers and there is a statute in this state which requires you to testify and if you don't then you will lose your jobs.”

Now, that warning all defendants testified.

They incriminated themselves by explaining the method of how tickets were downgraded and subsequently the state -- the State Supreme Court of the Attorney General's office referred the results of the investigation to the Camden County Prosecutor for presentation of the grand jury.

The grand jury indicted --

Potter Stewart:

That warning that you refer to presumably emphasize there's an accurate statement of the Jersey law, wasn't it in the statute?

Daniel L. O'Connor:

It was an accurate statement of the law insofar as it went and as far as the statute was concerned, yes.

There's no question about that.

In other words, what he and thinks and said what exactly what the statements says.

In other words, the statute says that if you refuse to testify and you are holding public office then you shall be removed from office.

The wording of the -- I'll read that just a little bit later because I want to read encompass in my argument the exact statement which was warning which was given.

They were indicted on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct the due administration of the motor vehicle traffic laws of New Jersey.

There was a trial at the trial after the introduction of evidence by the prosecutor.