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6th Circuit: Gaming board violated jockeys' rights

A state board that guards against corruption in the gaming industry violated the constitutional rights of four jockeys who refused to cooperate with a 2010 race-rigging investigation. That decision just came down from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The harness racers were suspended and denied renewals of their licenses under a commission rule. It requires licensees to cooperate with investigations or lose their racing industry licenses. 

But the appeals court said that violates Fifth Amendment protections.

From the opinion:

“…the Constitution entitled the harness drivers to refuse to answer potentially self-incriminating questions, unless the state immunized them from prosecution. To punish the drivers violated the Constitution, and both suspension and exclusion constitute punishment.”

The court said the state could not compel the harness racers to answer questions unless it also offered them immunity from prosecution.  

The Michigan Gaming Control Board says no one has been charged in the case, and the investigation remains open.

The lawsuit will now go back to the U.S. District Court in Flint.

The attorney for the horse racers says they deserve to be compensated for their lost income as well as punitive damages.

“If you’re banned in one state, or you lose your license in one state, you can’t race in any state or in Canada,” said their attorney, Hugh Davis. “So there was nowhere could go. There was nothing they could do.”

They lost their farms. They lost their homes.”          

The state is still deciding what do to next, says a spokesperson for the gaming board. 

“We are reviewing the decision and looking at our options,” said Mary Kay Bean.

The options could include asking the appeals court to reconsider the decision, or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.