The protection of the individual under U.S. Const. amend. XIV against coerced statements prohibits the use in subsequent criminal proceedings of statements obtained under threat of removal from office.
Police officers in certain New Jersey boroughs, when questioned by other state officers concerning the alleged fixing of traffic tickets, answered the questions after a warning that they were entitled to remain silent and any information given might be used against them in any criminal prosecution, but that if they refused to answer they would be subject to removal from office. Over their objections, some of the statements thus obtained were subsequently used to convict them in a prosecution for conspiracy to obstruct the administration of the traffic law. Their convictions were sustained by the Supreme Court of New Jersey over their protests that their statements were coerced because of the threat that if they refused to answer, they could lose their position with the police department. The police officers appealed.
Where police officers were told if they refused to answer ticket fixing questions that they would be subject to removal from office, does the Fourteenth Amendment's protection against coerced confessions prohibit the use of the police officers' statements in subsequent criminal proceedings?
The United States Supreme Court reversed defendants' convictions on the grounds that their statements were coerced. The Court held that the protection against coerced confessions under the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the use in subsequent criminal proceedings of confessions obtained from public officers under a threat of removal from office. The Court reviewed the record and concluded that defendants' statements had been coerced and made under duress because defendants had to choose between self-incrimination or job forfeiture. The State could not threaten to discharge defendants to secure incriminating evidence against them. Defendants were entitled to the protection of U.S. Const. amends. V and XIV, and any incriminating statements obtained pursuant to the forfeiture-of-office statute, N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2A: 81-17.1, could not be used in subsequent criminal proceedings.