Garrity v. New Jersey: Background
In June of 1961, The New Jersey State Supreme Court directed the state’s Attorney General to investigate substantial evidence and reports that pointed to “ticket fixing” in the towns of Bellmar and Barrington. Following investigation, six employees were targeted as suspicious threats. Three of these employees came from Bellmar, including a court clerk, a police officer and the town’s Police Chief, Mr. Edward Garrity. Those that were filed as suspicious in Barrington were police officers.
Before being questioned the six state employees were read their rights: the individuals were told that anything said may be used during a criminal proceeding; the individuals had the privilege to refuse to answer any question if the answer would be used against them in the court of law; and a refusal to answer such questions would be cause for removal from office.
Each of the suspected employees answered the questions posed by the government. Some of these answers were used during the trial, which ultimately resulted in their convictions for conspiracy to obstruct their respective town’s administration of traffic laws.
The employees, following their conviction, appealed arguing that their statements were coerced and thus in direct violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. These convictions, which were upheld by the state Supreme Court, were again appealed where they were retried in the United States Supreme Court.
Garrity v. New Jersey: The Question
The issue in Garrity v. New Jersey asked the question of whether a State, contrary to the requirements laid forth by the Fourteenth Amendment, can use the threat of discharge to secure self-incriminating evidence against an employee of a state body.
Garrity v. New Jersey: The Decision
The United States Supreme Court in Garrity v. New Jersey ultimately reversed the decision rendered by the New Jersey Supreme Court. As a result of the decision laid forth in Garrity v. New Jersey all employees of the case saw their convictions overturned.
The reasoning behind the United States’ Supreme Court ruling in Garrity v. New Jersey was as follows:
· Garrity v. New Jersey states that the threat of removal from a public office renders the resulting statements involuntary. As a result, said statements are inadmissible in the state criminal proceedings
· Garrity v. New Jersey states that coercion is present if the choice given to petitioners revolves around either a forfeiture of their jobs or the delivery of self-incriminating evidence.
· The option to lose their means of income and livelihood or to pay the penalties associated with self-incrimination is the direct opposite of free choice to remain silent or speak out
· Policemen, like all state employees, are not relegated to a lesser or watered-down version of constitutional rights
· The protection of the individual under the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution against coercion is affirmed through the ruling of Garrity v. New Jersey. This protection extends to statements obtained under threat of removal from office.