Author: George Perez
When it comes to safeguarding the rights of law enforcement officers during
internal affairs investigations, one legal principle stands out: the Garrity use
immunity. As a seasoned and experienced law enforcement executive with
over 23 years of experience in the field of managing matters related to
employee misconduct investigations and common challenges of due process,
I'd like to discuss the intricacies of this doctrine and its practical implications for
officers, investigators, and their departments.
What is Garrity Use Immunity?
The Garrity use immunity originates from a landmark 1967 Supreme Court case,
Garrity v. New Jersey. In essence, this principle ensures that public employees,
like police officers, aren't forced to choose between self-incrimination and losing
their jobs. In the event that officers are compelled to provide a statement during
administrative investigations, this statement cannot be used against them in
subsequent criminal proceedings.
Let’s look at an example here:
Detective Ludy Miller, a seasoned officer in a metropolitan police department,
finds herself at the center of an internal affairs investigation. There are
allegations that she may have tampered with evidence in a high-profile case.
As part of the administrative inquiry, Detective Miller is ordered to provide a
statement about her actions and decisions related to the evidence in question.
She is informed that failing to cooperate or provide a statement could result in
disciplinary action, including potential termination.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, Detective Miller, fearing job loss,
provides a statement. In her account, she explains certain actions she took
which could be seen as borderline or questionable in terms of evidence
handling. The internal affairs division completes its investigation, and based on
her statement and other findings, they decide to impose certain administrative
sanctions on Detective Miller.
Later, there's a twist. The county prosecutor's office learns about the internal
investigation and considers pressing criminal charges against Detective Miller for
evidence tampering. However, due to the Garrity Use Immunity principle, the
statement Detective Miller gave during the internal affairs investigation cannot
be used as evidence against her in this criminal proceeding. This protection
ensures that while Detective Miller was compelled to speak in the administrative
setting, she still retains her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the
The Garrity Use Immunity essentially serves as a shield for officers, ensuring their
constitutional rights are upheld even when they are under the scrutiny of their
own departments. This immunity does not allow for perjury. Additionally, should
the internal affairs investigations reveal evidence of other criminal wrongdoing
not related to the statement provided under immunity, that evidence can be
used in presenting criminal charges against Detective Miller.
The Fine Line: Administrative vs. Criminal Investigations
The cornerstone of Garrity is the distinction between administrative and criminal
investigations. The former seeks to maintain the integrity and professionalism of a
police department, while the latter has punitive intentions. For example, if an
officer is under investigation for excessive use of force, an internal affairs division
may initiate an administrative inquiry. The officer's statements in this context are
protected by Garrity immunity. However, if a criminal case ensues, those
statements are off-limits as evidence.
Complexities in Application
Despite its clear premise, Garrity immunity has been a subject of debate and
misunderstanding. Here's where things get complex:
Voluntary vs. Compelled Statements: For Garrity protections to apply, statements
must be compelled, not volunteered. Officers need to be expressly told that
failure to cooperate can result in job loss. Any voluntary admission, however,
can be used in criminal trials.
Sequencing Matters: Best practice dictates that criminal investigations should
precede administrative ones. This ensures that evidence gathered
administratively doesn't taint the criminal process.
The 'Fruits' Dilemma: The Garrity decision prevents the direct use of compelled
statements in criminal cases. But what about leads or evidence derived from
those statements? Courts differ on this, with some allowing the fruits of Garrity protected
statements, while others don't.
Case Law Example: United States v. Camacho
In this case, which took place in the 9th Circuit, the defendant, an officer, was
compelled to make a statement during an internal affairs investigation. Later,
prosecutors sought to use evidence that they claimed was derived
independently of the officer's Garrity-protected statement. The defense argued
that this evidence was tainted because it was indirectly obtained from the
compelled statement and thus should be suppressed.
The court had to grapple with a tricky issue: could the evidence be considered
"fruit of the poisonous tree," a doctrine which, in other contexts, means evidence
derived from an illegal search or seizure is tainted and inadmissible? The court
ultimately held that even if the government could demonstrate that it had an
independent source for the evidence (i.e., they would have eventually
discovered the evidence even without the officer's compelled statement), it
was not enough. The evidence derived from the compelled statement was
This case showcases the complexities surrounding the "fruits" dilemma in the
context of Garrity. Some circuits have been stricter in their interpretation,
ensuring that not just the compelled statement but also any evidence derived
from it is excluded. However, other jurisdictions might have a more lenient
approach, emphasizing the independent source rule or inevitable discovery
doctrine to admit such evidence.
As with many legal principles, the nuances of how Garrity protections are
applied can vary based on jurisdiction and the specifics of the case at hand.
The best protection for investigators to follow is acting in good faith and taking
all necessary steps towards safeguarding due process.
Garrity use immunity is a cornerstone of police rights during internal affairs
probes. However, its practical application is riddled with complexities. Both
police departments and the legal fraternity must be attuned to these nuances
to ensure fair and just outcomes for all parties involved. What is at stake is the
officer’s due process, employee morale, and community trust.
You may ask yourself, why community trust? We must understand that when
departments fast track investigations that lead to violations of due process, it is
almost absolute that community trust will be adversely impacted. The reasoning
for this statement derives from the reality that related imposed employee
actions will likely be rescinded, which in turn will become the focus for the
By understanding and respecting the boundaries of Garrity, we can strike a
balance between upholding the integrity of law enforcement agencies and
preserving the due process rights of officers. As I always recommend, consult
your department’s legal team when questions arise concerning a specific
Garrity dilemma you may face. Your legal team is there to help and guide you,
why would you not want to leverage their expertise. If you have found this
article to be helpful and may know someone it can assist, please feel free to
share it with them.
Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493 (1967). ↩
"Administrative vs. Criminal Investigations: A Crucial Distinction", The Police Chief
Magazine, 2015. ↩
United States v. Camacho, 739 F.2d 1508 (9th Cir. 1984). ↩
"Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights", National Conference of State
Legislatures, 2019. ↩
"Garrity Rights", Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute, 2020. ↩
"The Fruits of Garrity-Protected Statements", Criminal Defense Lawyer, 2018. ↩
"Albuquerque Police Shooting and the Garrity Dilemma", The Albuquerque
Journal, 2014. ↩