Release Date:  February 16, 2018
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Oral argument in City of Hays v. Vogt set for Tuesday, February 20

The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument Tuesday regarding an alleged violation of the Constitution’s protection against self-incrimination. At issue in the case of City of Hays v. Vogt is whether a former police officer’s admission to taking a knife from a crime scene, which resulted in an investigation and a hearing on felony charges, violated his Fifth Amendment rights.

Last year, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the former officer’s claim, allowing him to sue the city because his admission and related evidence were introduced at a preliminary hearing.

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has joined the case to encourage a decision overturning the Tenth Circuit ruling.

The case involves a 2013 job interview between Matthew Vogt, a former police officer of the City of Hays, Kansas, and an official of the Haysville Police Department, where he was seeking employment. During the interview, Vogt revealed he possessed a knife that he had taken from a crime scene in Hays. At the close of the interview, Vogt was offered the new job on the condition that he inform the Hays chief of police about the knife he had taken. When Vogt did this, the chief asked him to write down how he had acquired the knife, which he did. With the intention of taking the new job at Haysville, Vogt also informed the chief that he would be resigning from his job at Hays PD.

The Hays PD opened an internal investigation, asking Vogt for a more detailed statement about the knife and gathered other related evidence. The department then suspended its investigation and turned the case over to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which opened a criminal investigation. Learning this, the Haysville Police Department withdrew Vogt’s job offer.

At a preliminary hearing, Vogt’s admission to the Hays police chief and the other related evidence were introduced to support felony charges, but the court dismissed the case for lack of probable cause.

Vogt subsequently sued for money damages, claiming that by introducing the statement he gave to the police chief and the other collected evidence at the hearing, the Hays PD had violated his privilege against self-incrimination. A federal district court judge dismissed the suit, holding that in order for there to be a Fifth Amendment violation, Vogt’s statement would have to have been introduced at a trial, not a preliminary hearing. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit reversed, announcing that because the hearing was part of a “criminal case” introduction of the statement was unconstitutional.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the state’s appeal, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton introduced a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief arguing that the Fifth Amendment’s Self-Incrimination Clause “that no person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” has been interpreted too broadly, allowing the exclusion of valid evidence from criminal trials. In this case, Stapleton argues that the use of Vogt’s statement to gather corroborating evidence and the use of that related evidence at the preliminary hearing do not violate the Fifth Amendment. “Neither physical evidence nor a person who simply gives information that leads to the discovery of physical evidence are ‘witnesses’ as that term is used in the Bill of Rights,” said Stapleton.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.