522 U.S. 262 (1998), 96-1395, Lachance v. Erickson

Docket Nº:Case No. 96-1395
Citation:522 U.S. 262, 118 S.Ct. 753, 139 L.Ed.2d 695, 66 U.S.L.W. 4073
Party Name:LACHANCE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT v. ERICKSON et al.
Case Date:January 21, 1998
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 262

522 U.S. 262 (1998)

118 S.Ct. 753, 139 L.Ed.2d 695, 66 U.S.L.W. 4073

LACHANCE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

v.

ERICKSON et al.

Case No. 96-1395

United States Supreme Court

January 21, 1998[*]

Argued December 2, 1997

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents, federal employees subject to adverse actions by their agencies, each made false statements to agency investigators with respect to the misconduct with which they were charged. In each case, the agency additionally charged the false statement as a ground for adverse action, and the action taken against the employee was based in part on the added charge. The Merit Systems Protection Board (Board) upheld that portion of each penalty that was based on the underlying charge, but overturned the false statement portion, ruling, inter alia, that the claimed statement could not be considered in setting the appropriate punishment. In separate appeals, the Federal Circuit agreed with the Board that no penalty could be based on a false denial of the underlying claim.

Held:

Neither the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause nor the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §1101 et seq., precludes a federal agency from sanctioning an employee for making false statements to the agency regarding his alleged employment-related misconduct. It is impossible to square the result reached below with the holding in, e. g., Bryson v. United States, 396 U.S. 64, 72, that a citizen may decline to answer a Government question, or answer it honestly, but cannot with impunity knowingly and willfully answer it with a falsehood. There is no hint of a right to falsely deny charged conduct in § 7513(a), which authorizes an agency to impose the sort of penalties involved here "for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service," and then accords the employee four carefully delineated procedural rights—advance written notice of the charges, a reasonable time to answer, legal representation, and a specific written decision. Nor can such a right be found in due process, the core of which is the right to notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Even assuming that respondents had a protected property interest in their employment, this Court rejects, both on the basis of precedent and principle, the Federal Circuit's view that a

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"meaningful opportunity to be heard" includes a right to make false statements with respect to the charged conduct. It is well established that a criminal defendant's right to testify does not include the right to commit perjury, e. g., Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157, 173, and that punishment may constitutionally be imposed, e. g., United States v. Wong, 431 U.S. 174, 178, or enhanced, e. g., United States v. Dunnigan, 507 U.S. 87, 97, because of perjury or the filing of a false affidavit required by statute, e. g., Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855. The fact that respondents were not under oath is irrelevant, since they were not charged with perjury, but with making false statements during an agency investigation, a charge that does not require sworn statements. Moreover, any claim that employees not allowed to make false statements might be coerced into admitting misconduct, whether they believe that they are guilty or not, in order to avoid the more severe penalty of removal for falsification is entirely frivolous. United States v....

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