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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do Horsemen Have Constitutional Rights?

The USTA reported this past Friday that horsemen John Moody, Don Harmon, Rick Ray and Wally McIllmurray Jr. are suing the Michigan Gaming and Control Board (MGCB) and others for suspending and revoking their licenses for allegedly taking the Fifth Ammendment with regards to the alleged race fixing which supposedly transpired in Michigan.   They are seeking their licenses to be restored, expunging all records regarding the suspension in question and monetary damages.

In the suit, it is alleged the drivers took the fifth ammendment and after their suspensions were over, were told they could only get their license back if they fired their lawyers and answered questions without invoking the Fifth Ammendment (against self-incrimination).  According to the suit, the attorney representing the drivers were told they would be arrested after the hearing.

If you accept the points alleged as true, Michigan law permits the racing commission to suspend a licensee if they refuse to attend a commission meeting or refuse to testify without 'just cause'.  Well, I am no attorney, but being told you are going to be arrested after the hearing sounds like just cause to me.  My understanding is if you answer any question besides your name and address, you then give up your right to take the Fifth. Not having any transcripts, I would assume if they were told they were targets of a criminal investigation, their lawyer would have made sure they answered no questions other than identifying themselves by name and address..
Again, reading the allegations in the suit, one has to wonder how a racing commission can demand someone appear at a hearing without legal representation.  Also, how can a commission insist someone give up their right against self-incrimination, especially one hich is part of the government? 

To a layman, the answer would appear to be they can't.  But this will be up to the courts to decide.  This will be an interesting case to follow as it works its way through the Federal Court system.

Retraction:  I blew it big time and retracted an early post


Anonymous said...

Suing the state could leave these drivers more exposed than the hearings that got them suspended.

With the drivers taking the offensive with a civil suit, the state's attorneys will have the right to ask more questions and demand records that wouldn't be allowed under criminal proceedings.

I don't know which side,if either, did something wrong. But the drivers are opening the doors to their lives and the court will allow Michigan to take a good look so it can prepare a defense.

That Blog Guy said...

I would disagree with your assessment. I don't think the drivers are exposed at all. This is a case of civil rights being violated, not whether or not they were involved in an alleged race fixing scheme.

The drivers can still claim the fifth ammendment in a civil suit as well.

Evidence must be obtained through legal sources. You can't demand someone incriminate themselves. If the state couldn't make a case through legitimate methods, you can't suspend someone because you suspect they are doing something. Private tracks can ban someone on suspicion, but not government.

Cangamble said...

I'm all for the courts getting involved in horse racing. Maybe the threat of a stiff jail sentence will deter cheating from race fixing to drugs.

Anonymous said...


Original poster here again. I agree the federal case is not about race fixing and the drivers are legally entitled to invoke the fifth amendment.

My point about the drivers exposing themselves is because the burden of proof is now on them as the plaintiffs. If the government in an effort to prepare or present its defense can't get sufficent answers or documents from the drivers during deposition or trial, I doubt a court would rule in favor of the drivers.

Maybe there's an attorney reading this blog who could chime in with an opinion.