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Fifth Amendment Right Waived, If Not Invoked During Polygraph Test

Pennsylvania parolee David S. Knoble served his sentence for endangering the welfare of a child, conspiring with his wife for her to engage in sexual intercourse with his 14-year old son and then placed on four-year probation. He was advised that termination or unsuccessful completion of the program would violate his probation. Within six months, he was terminated from the program for dishonesty during therapeutic polygraph tests about his sexual history and was arrested for violating his probation.

After the revocation, when the court sentenced Knoble on the underlying offense. He appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, alleging the incriminating questions during the polygraph tests violated his 5th Amendment rights. The Superior Court agreed with Knoble citing Commonwealth v. Shrawder, 940 A.2d 436, 443 (Pa. Super. 2007) that inquiries were permissible only if they related to the underlying offense and the information would not be used against him in subsequent criminal trials. The Superior Court reversed the trial court because the inquiries violated Knoble's 5th Amendment rights.

The Commonwealth appealed claiming no 5th Amendment violation occurred because the statements obtained during the polygraph tests were not used against Knoble at the revocation hearing or in any subsequent criminal case. The Commonwealth argued that the constitutional violation only occurs if he was compelled to act as a witness against himself in a criminal proceeding. The Commonwealth also argued that Knoble failed to invoke the 5th Amendment at the polygraph tests and the revocation proceeding.

Knowing his probation officer would be privy to the disclosed sexual history information, Knoble signed a limited confidentiality waiver consenting to the unrestricted communication between program staff and his probation officer. He could have invoked his 5th Amendment rights at any stage but did not. Since his probation condition did not require him to choose between self-incrimination and jeopardizing his liberty, Knoble's failure to invoke his 5th Amendment protection cannot be excused. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court order and remanded it for reinstatement of the trial court's sentencing order. See: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Knoble, 42 A.3d 976 (Pa. 2012).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Knoble