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Acquitted of Sex Crimes, Orlando Ex-Deputy Sues to Get Job Back

In 2008, a young man accused an Orange County deputy who had been working as a school resource officer -- apparently falsely -- of having committed sex crimes against him as a child. While the deputy was able to mount a successful defense in that case, his acquittal came at the cost of his career. Why? Because Orange County Sheriff's Office policy requires all officers to cooperate fully and truthfully with any internal investigation, and this officer reserved his right not to speak to investigating officers on the advice of his attorney.

This isn't precisely a case of the deputy's constitutional right against self incrimination being violated, because he was legally free not to talk to the officers who were trying to build a case against him. No one compelled him to speak to the officers or to incriminate himself. The only problem was that he could not exercise his right to remain silent and expect to keep his job as a police officer.

The issue is one of analogy. Since we value our Fifth Amendment rights, isn't it surprising that a law enforcement agency would adopt a policy that pits an officer's constitutional rights directly against his employment?

"The officer has no right not to talk," explained a criminal justice professor from Saint Leo University to reporters. When they sign on, officers essentially imply their consent to answer questions in internal investigations fully and honestly, even if doing so would undermine their criminal defense strategy.

In this case, the issue was a little tougher than that implies, however. One of the officers conducting the investigation regarding the alleged sex crimes was also a witness against the deputy -- and the judge had ordered the deputy not to talk to any of those witnesses.

The deputy, now acquitted of two of the charges and with the third dropped, has filed a federal lawsuit, saying that the Sheriff's Office rushed to judgment and fired him, despite his being put in an untenable position and despite the fact that he was subsequently acquitted of the charges.

He is seeking some $75,000 in compensation, plus back pay and benefits, along with reinstatement as a deputy or an equivalent position with equal pay and benefits.

Even though the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination is fundamental to our legal system, some may consider its invocation an indication of guilt. This is not in keeping with the purpose of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court has recognized that the Fifth Amendment is available to an innocent person.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Deputy wants job back after being cleared in child-sex case," Amy Pavuk, April 27, 2013

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