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Michigan Supreme Court: Cops can't be prosecuted for false statements

detroit police car
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Michigan police officers can never be criminally prosecuted for statements they are compelled to make during internal investigations — even if those statements turn out to be lies that amount to perjury or another crime.

That’s what the Michigan Supreme Court decided this week, in the case of three Detroit officers charged with obstructing justice.

Officer Nevin Hughes was accused of assaulting a Detroit motorist in the presence of two other officers, Sean Harris and William Little.

When the motorist filed a complaint, the officers had to testify for an internal investigation.

All three denied the assault allegations. After a video recording surfaced to prove they had lied, they were charged with obstruction of justice.

But the officers fought those charges, contending that a Michigan law — the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Officers Act — shields them from prosecution based solely on those statements, even if the statements were false.

And this week, after a series of appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed.

The court ruled that any time an officer is compelled to speak and their job is at stake, those statements can’t be used against them in any criminal proceeding.

“Simply stated, the DLEOA bars the use in a subsequent criminal proceeding of all information provided by a law enforcement officer under threat of any employment sanction,” the court majority wrote.

“The plain language of the DLEOA protects all statements given by officers under compulsion.”

The court noted that the law probably wasn’t meant to protect officers who commit perjury or obstruct justice — but in effect, that’s what it does.

“While we may question the Legislature’s decision to offer such unqualified protections, we are obligated to respect that decision and interpret the statute in accordance with its plain language,” the court majority wrote.

The court ordered the obstruction charges against Hughes, Harris, and Little be dropped.

“We are disappointed in the decision and urge the Legislature to permit a police officer’s lies to be used against him in a criminal prosecution,” Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy, said via e-mail.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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