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February 20, 2023 | Posted In Administrative Law |

In years past, police officers, secure in the knowledge that his/her administration would be generally fair, would agree to speak to the internal affairs (I/A) officer when requested on matters they believed to be minor.  No longer can you afford to do that.  We are living in different times, and the rules are constantly changing. 

Three Reasons to Consult with a New Jersey Attorney During an Internal Affairs Investigation

1. Your Attorney Can Advise You During Your Interview

In the current climate, you should have counsel, as a matter of course, the minute you are made aware that an internal affairs investigation has commenced with you as a target.  The first reason is that when you are called for an interview, your attorney will be aware of it and present during the statement.  It is not an adversarial process where we can argue or intervene, but we can listen to your answers and in some ways,  more importantly,  listen to the questions, so we get a sense of what the administration has or thinks it has and where the case is headed.  If we are not a participant, we will be working in the dark until or unless the discovery process begins, and then it may be too late to resolve the matter in a simple fashion.

2. You Need an Advocate On Your Side

A second reason is that the current NJ Attorney General is no fan of yours.  He makes public statements of supporting police officers and then ramrods new policies through at a ridiculous rate, over 20 directives and revisions of directives in his less than 3 years in office all directed at law enforcement officers.  This includes two revisions of the Internal Affairs Guidelines, the creation of a policy that mandates public disclosure of Internal Affairs discipline of officers for punishments of 5 days suspension or more or demotion and a policy to assail your ability to continue in your profession in the directive governing so-called Brady and Giglio information.  The last one pertains to a review of your conduct, even if not deemed criminal or even a violation of policy but involves a question of whether someone (not a court) determines that you were less than candid.  If that occurs, you will be put on a list where the prosecutors must disclose to defense attorneys that you have been found to be untruthful.  This will occur each and every time your name is listed in a trial file.  This makes you a liability to your department, the county prosecutor’s office and the provability of any case with which your name becomes associated.  It also provides a reason to take action to remove you from your position as your existence as an officer after this finding is an impediment to criminal cases being made and prosecuted successfully. 

3. Internal Affairs Investigations Can Have Serious Consequences

If your internal affairs investigation leads to a finding of misconduct, this can have serious consequences for your career, your finances and your freedom. In fact, losing your position in the department could be the least of your concerns. Internal affairs investigations can—and frequently do—lead to criminal charges, and prosecutors in New Jersey do not go easy on police officers who are accused of abusing their position of authority.

As you well know, facing criminal charges in New Jersey is an uphill battle. Prosecutors have a variety of tools at their disposal, and the criminal justice system is designed to facilitate successful prosecution in many ways. Once you have been targeted in an internal affairs investigation, you will have already been vilified—in the minds of the prosecutors, the jurors and the judge.

As a result, to protect yourself to the fullest extent possible, you need an experienced defense team on your side. You need a team of lawyers who understand the charges against you and the flaws in the internal affairs investigation process. You need lawyers who have the skills needed to protect you, and who have the track record to prove it.

As a Police Officer, Your Conduct Is Under the Microscope

In short, you are at the end of six years of vilifying you as police officers for things you do and things you did not do.  It began in 2014 when the State took away the ability of county prosecutor’s offices to investigate incidents of officer-involved deadly force, all stemming from a concern about fairness the impetus of which was a media-created and perpetuated lie about an illegal police officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri which the Justice Department, despite the condemnation (without information) of the officer by the then President of the United States and the then Attorney General of the United States, ultimately determined was a so-called “good shoot.” That ultimate determination did nothing to prevent the end of the officer’s career, his designation nationally as a villain or the danger it exposed him and his family to by virtue of the misinformation and lies spoken about the incident to this day.

Prosecutors Must Disclose Certain Facts To Your Attorney (If You Are Represented)

The NJ Attorney General has continued in this tradition. He has commented publicly about the actions of police officers here in New Jersey and thus put his heavy finger on cases to which he and his office have little to no knowledge.  This is not a friendly environment for law enforcement officers; thus, I caution you to tread lightly and carefully when wading into an Internal Affairs investigation into your conduct and have counsel involved at the earliest possible moment.  This will not stop investigations or unjustified public outings, but it will ensure that you and your attorney are aware of everything that can be known from the onset and, thus, be forearmed and better prepared to anticipate and address issues as they unfold, whether administrative or criminal and begin the fight for your rights and good name without delay.

What To Expect During Your Internal Affairs Investigation

Given the risks involved, when you are facing an internal investigation as a police officer, it is extremely important to know what you can expect at each stage of the process. This will allow you to make informed decisions every step of the way, and it will help you avoid surprises that could lead to costly mistakes. With this in mind, here are some key facts you need to know when accused of police misconduct:

1. The Investigation Will Take Multiple Paths Simultaneously

When you sit for your interview, the investigation will take other paths simultaneously. If you don’t act quickly to defend yourself, you could quickly fall behind. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to engage an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

2. The Department Is Not On Your Side

Unlike the days of old, these days, when you are the subject of an internal affairs investigation, the department might not be on your side. The department would sooner distance itself from you than stand behind you in solidarity. It means that any discussions you have regarding the investigation should be exclusively between you and your attorney.

3. Your Internal Affairs Investigations Could Lead to Criminal Charges

When facing an internal affairs investigation in today’s environment, it is important to acknowledge the very real possibility that the investigation could lead to criminal charges. If it appears likely that you will be charged, you will need to work with your defense attorney to address your charges head-on.

4. Even If You Aren’t Charged, the Investigation Could Have Lasting Consequences

Even if you aren’t ultimately charged as a result of your internal affairs investigation, the investigation could still have lasting consequences. Publicity surrounding the investigation could tarnish your reputation. Depending on what happens, the investigation could make it very difficult, if not impossible, for you to continue your law enforcement career. Your attorney may be able to help mitigate these risks, but there are, unfortunately, many aspects of the investigation that will simply be beyond your control.

5. You Can—and Should—Play a Role in the Outcome of Your Investigation

Despite the fact that many aspects of the investigation will be beyond your control, you can—and should—play a role in its outcome. Working with your defense attorney, you can influence the process, assert your legal rights, and fight to ensure that you receive at least some semblance of the justice you deserve.

New Jersey Does Not Have a Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights

While some states have enacted a Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, New Jersey has not. State assembly members proposed a bill in 2018, but the bill never became law. This tells you a lot about how the state treats police officers who are suspected—or even simply accused—of misconduct.

With the national media coverage of police misconduct in recent years, there has been a trend away from protecting police officers. State legislatures, including the New Jersey Legislature, are adopting new protections for citizens at police officers’ expense. While appropriate protections for citizens are certainly warranted, police officers who put their lives on the line (and who must frequently deal with situations that are far from black-and-white) deserve reasonable protections as well.

However, as a police officer, you do have the same legal and constitutional rights as all other criminal suspects and defendants. This means, among other things, that you have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and you have the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment. You also have the right to counsel, and, as we discussed above, hiring an experienced defense team to protect you is the best thing you can do when facing an internal affairs investigation. 

Additionally, it should be noted that police officers can refuse to answer Internal Affairs questioning if their answers could incriminate them (unless the prosecutor’s office authorizes Garrity warnings that the officer will not be criminally prosecuted for their answers or information derived from their answers). Be aware; however, that failure to answer after Garrity warnings by itself may be a basis to terminate an officer for cause even if they have not done anything else for which they were being investigated.

How can a defense team help? When we represent police officers during internal affairs investigations in New Jersey, we protect our clients by all available means. This includes (but is by no means limited to):

  • Intervening in the investigation to ensure that all procedural rules and restrictions are followed
  • Exposing flawed assumptions, improper investigation practices, and other improprieties during the investigation
  • Uncovering and highlighting facts that are favorable to our client’s defense
  • Working to resolve the investigation without formal disciplinary action or criminal charges
  • Fighting to exclude irrelevant and illegally obtained evidence from trial and fighting to protect our client in court by all other means available 

Contact Us for a Confidential Consultation About Your Internal Affairs Investigation

If you are facing an internal affairs investigation as a police officer in New Jersey, we encourage you to contact us right away. Our attorneys can help protect you, but only if you give us the opportunity. To schedule a confidential consultation with an attorney at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. as soon as possible, call 609-739-7432 or tell us how we can reach you online now.

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