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A Better Partnership
February 09, 2015

MSC to consider whether police officers’ false statements can be used against them in prosecutions for obstruction of justice

In the consolidated appeal of People v Harris, Nos. 149872, 149873, 150042, the Michigan Supreme Court granted applications to appeal the Court of Appeals’ July 15, 2014 opinion. Three police officers lied during an excessive force investigation and were charged with obstruction of justice. The trial court held that the officers’ false statements were barred in the prosecution for obstruction of justice under the Fifth Amendment and MCL 15.393. However, the Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision and reinstated the charges.  On appeal the court will consider: 1) whether the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Act, MCL 15.391, et seq. bars the use of false statements by a police officer in prosecution for obstruction for justice; and, 2) whether the defendants’ signed waivers bar the use of false statements in criminal prosecution under their state and federal rights against self-incrimination. PAAM and CDAM are invited to file briefs amicus curiae.
 
In November 2009, Detroit police officer, defendant Hughes approached Hodges-Lamar’s car at a gas station and started questioning him. Hughes proceeded to pull Hodges-Lamar from the car, search him, slam him up against a car, punch him several times to the ground, pick him up by the collar, slam him up against the car again, and then push Hodges-Lamar towards two other Detroit police officers, defendants Harris and Little. Hodges-Lamar went the hospital for his injuries and reported the incident to a different police officer. The Detroit Board of Commissioners Office of the Chief Investigator interviewed the three defendants, Hughes, Harris, and Little, in 2010. Before the interview, the defendants received constitutional rights forms stating that refusal to answer the questions could result in dismissal from the police force, and also their answers would not be used against them in subsequent criminal proceedings. With that information, Harris and Little stated that the only physical contact Hughes had with Hodges-Lamar was a pat down search and Hughes stated that he pulled Hodges-Lamar from the car but used no other force. Eventually, a video recording from the gas station was discovered, documenting Hughes’ physical assault of Hodges-Lamar. The defendants were charged with obstruction of justice.
 
The district court held that the officers’ false statements were barred in the prosecution for obstruction of justice under the Fifth Amendment and under MCL 15.393, which precludes use of a police officer’s “involuntary statements” against that officer in later criminal proceedings. However, the Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, reinstating the obstruction of justice charges against all three defendants. The Court reasoned that while the Fifth Amendment provides the right to remain silent, it does not protect lying; relying heavily on United States Supreme Court case, Garrity v New Jersey, 385 US 493 (1967). Similarly, the Court interpreted the MCL 15.393 “involuntary statements” phrase to include only true statements, meaning that defendants’ false statements fell outside of the statute’s protection. The Michigan Supreme Court granted the applications to appeal the Court of Appeals’ decision. On appeal the Michigan Supreme Court will hear consider whether the officers’ false statements should be barred from use in criminal proceedings against them under self-incrimination rights, and/or under MCL 15.393.

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