The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal by the City of Hays in a federal civil rights case filed against the city by a former police officer who claimed his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination had been violated.
The court’s decision to hear the appeal came last week, one of 11 cases the nation’s highest court agreed to hear in its upcoming term.
The civil rights case, filed by former Hays Police officer Matthew Vogt, has been ongoing for 27 months now, according to a brief filed by attorneys for the City of Hays. The case was first filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita, where Judge Monti Belot dismissed it two years ago.
Vogt appealed the dismissal to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Belot’s decision, and determined Vogt’s Fifth Amendment rights had been violated.
The 10th Circuit, however, agreed to dismiss as defendants the City of Haysville and two of its police officers, along with two officers with the Hays Police Department.
That only left the City of Hays as a defendant in the case, which filed its petition with the court in late June. Responses from Vogt and a reply from the city were filed in August.
On Monday, the justices agreed to hear the appeal.
The case dates back to 2013, when Vogt was working for Hays as a police officer. It was during an interview for a job with the Haysville Police Department when Vogt revealed that “he kept a knife for his personal use after coming into possession of it while working as a … police officer” for the City of Hays , documents in the appeal state.
Vogt was offered the job at Haysville, but it was contingent on him reporting the knife to the Hays PD and returning it.
According to documents in the case, Vogt told Hays Police chief Don Scheibler about the knife and Scheibler told Vogt to provide additional information. An internal investigation also was opened.
Vogt, however, gave a “vague one-sentence report related to his possession of the knife” and submitted his two-week notice of resignation.
Hays Police Lt. Brandon Wright, in charge of internal investigations, asked Vogt for a statement, which he provided. The statement included the type of call involved, and Wright was able to locate “an audio recording which captured the circumstances of how (Vogt) came into possession of the knife,” attorneys for the City of Hays said in its petition asking the court to hear the appeal.
Scheibler terminated the internal review and turned the information over to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
The City of Haysville also withdrew its job offer.
Ultimately, Vogt was charged with two felony counts connected to the knife, charges that were eventually dismissed for a lack of probable cause by a judge in Ellis County District Court.
But Vogt’s statement to Hays police was used during the hearing.
Vogt then filed the federal lawsuit claiming his Fifth Amendment rights were violated.
“Specifically, (Vogt) alleged that: (1) by threatening to terminate his employment if he did not provide additional statements about the knife, the defendants compelled him to make incriminating statements; and (2) those statements were used against him in a criminal case when they were used at the probable cause hearing,” according to the petition filed by the City of Hays.
Attorneys for Hays argued the case should be heard because it presents a “significant and recurring question of constitutional law on which the lower courts are sharply divided: Is the Fifth Amendment violated when compelled statements are used at a probably cause hearing but never at a criminal trial?”
Although attorneys for Hays said four circuit courts have determined the self-incrimination clause is violated at some pretrial hearings other courts have not.
Vogt’s attorneys, in their reply brief, sought to suggest otherwise, and argued the case is a “poor vehicle” to resolve the issue.
“The court of appeals did not resolve one way or another whether the city is liable for Officer Vogt’s Fifth Amendment claim,” their brief said. “It merely reversed the district court’s dismissal of that claim … Thus, under the terms of the Court of Appeals’ ruling this litigation will proceed in district court, and its ultimate disposition is as yet unknown. Against this backdrop, there is at this juncture no need or reason for this court’s intervention.”
Hays, in its reply to Vogt, again said there is a split, and said the appellate court’s decision was wrong.
“Our position is simple: ‘Mere compulsion’ does not violate the self-incrimination clause,” the brief said. “Until a criminal defendant is compelled to take the witness stand or the defendant’s compelled out-of-court statements are presented to the jury, we submit, the defendant has not been made ‘to be a witness against himself… .”
The case in Wichita had been put on hold pending a decision by the Supreme Court on whether it will hear the case. With that decision made, the case will remain on hold until a decision is handed down.
This case also will be heard by just eight justices, as Neil Grouch, who sat on the 10th Circuit prior to his Supreme Court appointment, has recused himself from the case.