Garrity v. New Jersey Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A group of police officers were investigated by the state attorney general for fixing traffic tickets. They were asked various questions and were not given immunity. Some of there answers were used in subsequent conspiracy prosecutions.

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

Whether a State, contrary to the requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment, can use the threat of discharge to secure incriminatory evidence against an employee?

Answer

“No. We conclude that policemen, like teachers and lawyers, are not relegated to a watered-down version of constitutional rights. The protection of the individual under the Fourteenth Amendment against coerced statements prohibits use in subsequent criminal proceedings of statements obtained under threat of removal from office, and that it extends to all, whether they are policemen or other members of our body politic. The choice given petitioners was either to forfeit their jobs or to incriminate themselves. The option to lose their means of livelihood or to pay the penalty of self-incrimination is the antithesis of free choice to speak out or to remain silent. That practice, like interrogation practices we reviewed in Miranda v. Arizona, is ‘likely to exert such pressure upon an individual as to disable him from making a free and rational choice.’ We think the statements were infected by the coercion inherent in this scheme of questioning and cannot be sustained
as voluntary under our prior decisions.
Where the choice is ‘between the rock and the whirlpool,’ duress is inherent in deciding to ‘waive’ one or the other. In these cases.

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    Conclusion

    The United States Supreme Court reversed, expressing the view that the protection against coerced confessions under the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the use in subsequent criminal proceedings of confessions obtained from public officers under a threat of removal from office. The Court reviewed the record and concluded that defendants’ statements had been coerced and made under duress because defendants had to choose between self-incrimination or job forfeiture. The State could not threaten to discharge defendants to secure incriminating evidence against them. Defendants were entitled to the protection of U.S. Const. amends. V and XIV , and any incriminating statements obtained pursuant to N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2A: 81-17.1 could not be used in subsequent criminal proceedings.

    • Case Brief: 1967
    • Petitioner: Edward J. Garrity, et al.
    • Respondent: State of New Jersey
    • Decided by: Warren Court

    Citation: 385 US 493 (1967)
    Argued: Nov 10, 1966
    Decided: Jan 16, 1967
    Granted Mar 21, 1966