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BlogsPublications | June 24, 2016
2 minute read

A law enforcement officer’s involuntary statement cannot be used against the officer in a criminal proceeding, even if the statement is false, says MSC

Under the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Officers Act (DLEOA), an involuntary statement made by a law enforcement officer, and any information taken from that statement, may not be used against the officer in a criminal proceeding.  The Michigan Supreme Court, in three consolidated cases—People v. Harris, No. 149872; People v. Little, No. 149873; and People v. Hughes, 150042—held that the DLEOA applies even if those statement are false.

Defendant Hughes, a Detroit police officer, assaulted a person while on duty.  After the victim of the assault filed a complaint with the Detroit Police Department, the Department launched an internal investigation.  Hughes denied the allegations of assault, under threat of dismissal from his job.  Two other officers, defendant Harris and defendant Little, were present for the assault, but also denied the allegations against Hughes when they responded to questions under threat of dismissal from their jobs.  DLEOA defines “involuntary statement” as information provided by the officer, if compelled by the threat of dismissal from their job or any other employment sanction.  Later, a video recording of the assault surfaced, and all three men were charged with obstruction of justice for their false statements.

The district court, relying on Fifth Amendment and DLEOA protection, found that the defendants’ statements could not be used against them, and without the statements, dismissed the obstruction of justice charges.  The circuit court affirmed the dismissal of the charges, but the court of appeals reversed and remanded, with an instruction to reinstate the charges, because it found that neither the Fifth Amendment nor DLEOA, MCL § 15.391 et seq., barred the use of the false statements in a criminal proceeding.

The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed and reinstated the dismissal.  Though the Fifth Amendment did not protect the defendants’ false statements, DLEOA still protected the defendants.  The Court determined that information, in the common sense of the word, could include true or false information.  It also said that if the Legislature wanted the protection to extend only to truthful statements, then it would have specified it in the act, as it had in other laws.

The dissent pointed out that information is commonly defined as knowledge, and lies do not lead to knowledge.  It also argued that the Legislature likely did not feel the need to specify in the act that protected statements must be truthful, because the act was meant to codify US Supreme Court decisions, which hold that false statements are not protected.