Garrity Rights are crucial to law enforcement officers’ legal protections within Michigan and the rest of the United States. Understanding these rights ensures officers can navigate complex legal situations while maintaining constitutional protections. We will cover the basics of Garrity Rights, their historical background, and practical applications for officers in Michigan.

What are Garrity Rights?

Garrity Rights originate from a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Garrity v. New Jersey. These rights protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during internal investigations conducted by their employers. Essentially, if an officer is under investigation and is forced to give a statement under the threat of job termination, that statement cannot be used in criminal prosecution. This protection stems from the Fifth Amendment, which guards against self-incrimination.

Fundamental Rights You Should Know

The core tenets of Garrity Rights are:

  • Protection Against Compelled Self-Incrimination: If an officer’s statement is given under threat of dismissal, it cannot be used in a criminal case.
  • Voluntary Statements: Any statement given voluntarily, without compulsion or threat of job loss, can be used in a criminal case.
  • Right to Silence: Officers have the right to remain silent. However, choosing silence can lead to job-related consequences.
  • Job vs. Criminal Proceedings: Statements compelled under Garrity are protected solely in criminal court, not administrative hearings or civil proceedings.

The concept emerged from the case of Garrity v. New Jersey. In this landmark case, police officers were suspected of ticket-fixing. They were told they could either answer questions or face job termination. The Supreme Court ruled that the officers’ statements, given under such compulsion, were not admissible in criminal court as they violated the Fifth Amendment.

POAM General Counsel Frank Guido has detailed the step-by-step procedure for members to assert their Garrity Right, re-emphasizing that “compulsion” must exist to assert the protection.

Examples of Garrity Rights In Action

  1. A Michigan police officer is under investigation for misuse of department resources. They are ordered to provide a statement or face dismissal. Under Garrity Rights, if the officer gives a statement due to this threat, that statement cannot be used against them in a criminal trial. However, it may still impact administrative actions within the department.
  2. A police officer in Michigan is being investigated for an alleged misuse of force during an arrest. The internal affairs department requires the officer to give a statement about the incident. Faced with the possibility of disciplinary action, including potential termination, the officer decides to provide a detailed account of the events under the protection of Garrity Rights. By invoking them, the officer’s statement is compelled under the threat of job loss. Therefore, while it can be used for internal disciplinary purposes or administrative actions, it is inadmissible in any criminal prosecution against the officer. 

When to Use Garrity Rights

Officers should invoke Garrity Rights when being questioned as part of an internal investigation and face potential job termination for refusing to cooperate. It is important for officers to state clearly that they are invoking their Garrity Rights. This could be as simple as saying, “I am answering under the protection of Garrity Rights.” This declaration protects their statements from being used in criminal proceedings.

Helping To Protect Our Members 

Garrity Rights are a vital tool for law enforcement officers, providing protection in balancing job obligations and constitutional rights. It is essential for officers, especially in Michigan, to understand these rights and recognize when and how to invoke them. 

If you have any questions or need further clarification about your rights, please contact the POAM. We are here to assist our members in navigating these complex legal waters.