FBI Special Agent David Hedgecock opened an investigation into the death of Mercado, and worked with the Miami Police Department homicide investigators. All evidence, statements, and photographs were reviewed, including statements obtained under Garrity. This led to the filing of federal civil rights charges against Camacho, Veal, Watson, Haynes, Sinclair, and Trujillo. The officers contested the use of the Garrity statements in the case. The statements were ruled inadmissible, as they were under the scope of Garrity. The officers were acquitted on conspiracy and in the remaining counts the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. There were no formal statements made by Camacho and Trujillo, as they were directly involved in the death of Mercado.
Three years later, In July, 1993, a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida indicted Camacho, Veal, Watson, and Haynes (Sinclair had died in the intervening time). Charges were:
- Conspiring to obstruct the due administration of justice, and engaging in misleading conduct designed to hinder, delay, and prevent the communication of information relating to the possible commission of a federal offense to a federal law enforcement officer or judge
- Knowingly misleading state investigators regarding the true circumstances of the death of Mercado with the intent to prevent the communication of information relating to the possible commission of a federal offense
- Making false statements
Veal, Watson, and Haynes were convicted on the second count, based on their false statements to state officers. The defendants appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was based on the grounds the statements were made under Garrity, and thus were forever barred from use in any prosecution. They contended the statements were coerced, because, they were under threat of the loss of their employment should they refuse to answer questions.
The 11th Circuit Court ruled:
Although an accused may not be forced to choose between incriminating himself and losing his job under Garrity, neither Garrity nor the Fifth Amendment prohibits prosecution and punishment for false statements or other crimes committed during the making of Garrity-protected statements. Giving a false statement is an independent criminal act that occurs when the individual makes the false statement; it is separate from the events to which the statement relates, the matter being investigated...We agree with the circuits that have addressed this issue before us and have determined that Garrity-insulated statements regarding past events under investigation must be truthful to avoid future prosecution for such crimes as perjury and obstruction of justice. Garrity protection is not a license to lie or to commit perjury.
Simply put, once given immunity from prosecution, the accused has the choice of not answering or answering truthfully. There is no gray area in this situation. If one gives a false statement, it is in itself a separate criminal act. The final note is that Garrity does not afford one the right to lie or commit perjury without impunity.
Officers must be aware of the penalty should they lie while under Garrity immunity. Many departments are adding a statement to the five-part Garrity warning that the officer must not lie while under the umbrella of Garrity. Departments should take an additional step--explain it to the officer in terms they will understand. The area should not be gray. It is already in black and white. Don't allow officers to make an error in judgment that can and will cost them their freedom.