United States Supreme Court to hear issue on the scope of the 5th Amendment Self Incrimination Clause and how it applies to preliminary hearings

In February, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case which sheds light on whether or not the prosecution can legally use a defendant’s previously-obtained incriminating statement as evidence at a preliminary or probable cause hearing; the Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether or not this violates a person’s fifth amendment.

The fifth amendment of our constitution guarantees that “no person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself”.  The main issue, in this case, is that if the Fifth Amendment is violated when a criminal defendant is compelled to incriminate himself, should the statement be allowed as evidence in a probable cause hearing?

The case, City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, is a case that will challenge the scope of the fifth amendment self-incrimination clause. The defendant in the case, Matthew Vogt, was a police officer in Hays, Kansas, but was in the interview process with the police department in another town, Haysville. During the interview process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife that he obtained while working for the City of Hays.

Vogt was given an offer of employment contingent on his reporting his acquisition of the knife to the City of Hays and returning it. Vogt willingly did so, but the City of Hays chief of police ordered Vogt to issue a statement regarding the knife. The statement was submitted and his resignation with the Hays police department was issued. The police chief opted for an internal investigation and requested a more-detailed statement from the former police officer. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation subsequently opened a criminal investigation which resulted in two felony charges against Vogt.

During the probable cause hearing, the prosecution used the statements Vogt provided to his former police chief during the internal investigation against him. Vogt filed a civil rights suit in federal court, arguing that the use of his statements in the probable cause hearing violated his fifth amendment.

Stafford Rosenbaum LLP prepared an Amicus Brief and highlighted a few issues for the court; a primary issue being that preliminary hearings only require a case to have probable cause. If the prosecutor is able to use a defendant’s self-incriminating statements, the constitution is undermined, and simply put, it is unjust and inefficient for the defendant and the court as a whole.

Another issue is in regards to when a criminal case legally begins- the term “criminal case” can refer to the action or controversy at law just to name a couple. If this is true, self-incriminating statements should not be allowed at the initiation of criminal proceedings; in this case, the criminal proceeding began when Vogt had a preliminary hearing. You can read a summation of the case by Stafford and Rosenbaum LLP here.

The issues of self-incrimination, in this case, are widely controversial and will be heard by the Supreme Court beginning on February 20, 2018. In the meantime, should you have any legal questions, please feel free to contact DelSignore Law today; we are happy to discuss Massachusetts criminal laws with you and are available to answer your questions today.