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November 7, 2013

An employee’s Constitutional right against self-incrimination does not give the individual the right to answer questions untruthfully


An employee’s Constitutional right against self-incrimination does not give the individual the right to answer questions untruthfully
2013 NY Slip Op 07104, Appellate Division, Third Department

An individual [Claimant]employed by Ulster County was arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance after heroin was found in the car she was driving. The County suspended Claimant without pay from her employment pending the resolution of the criminal charges.

Claimant then applied for unemployment insurance benefits and told the Department of Labor investigator that she was on disciplinary suspension because of her arrest and that she was "not guilty of any wrongdoing in connection with the arrest." Claimant was approved to receive unemployment insurance benefits based on this information.

Subsequently Claimant was convicted of two misdemeanor counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree arising out of the arrest and Ulster County terminated her employment.

Following Claimant's termination by the County, a Labor Department Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) disqualified her from receiving unemployment insurance benefits on the ground that she had been separated from employment due to her misconduct. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision and ultimately Claimant was held subject to a recoverable overpayment of unemployment insurance benefits in the amount of $31,935 and a reduced right to receive future benefits by 16 effective days on the Board’s finding that she had made willful misrepresentations to obtain benefits.

Complainant appealed contending that her statement to the investigator constituted “an exercise of her constitutional right against self-incrimination for which she could not be penalized by the Board.” The Appellate Division rejected this argument, explaining that although Claimant had the right to refuse to respond to any inquiries related to her possible guilt in connection with her arrest and the criminal charges then pending against her, "neither the text nor the spirit of the Fifth Amendment confers a privilege to lie."*

In the words of the Appellate Division, “By her response to the investigator's inquiry as to whether she was, in fact, guilty of the crimes she was charged with, [Claimant] “took a course that the Fifth Amendment gave [her] no privilege to take’ and the jury's verdict convicting her of knowingly possessing heroin at the time of her arrest conclusively established the falsity of her statement denying any wrongdoing.”

The Appellate Division sustained the Board’s determination, ruling that substantial evidence supported its finding that Claimant's affirmative statement to the Labor Department's investigator that she was "not guilty of any wrongdoing in connection with [her] arrest" was a willful misrepresentation made in order to obtain benefits.

* In Bryson v. United States, 396 US 64, the Court said “Our legal system provides methods for challenging the Government’s right to ask questions – lying is not one of them. A citizen may decline to answer the question, or answer it honestly, but he [or she] cannot with impunity knowingly and willfully answer with a falsehood.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_07104.htm
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