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Third Circuit: Requiring Admission of Guilt to Participate in Mandatory-for-Parole SOTP Not a Fifth Amendment Violation

by Matt Clarke

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that requiring an admission of guilt to participate in an in-prison sex offender treatment program (SOTP) did not violate the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against compulsory self-incrimination, even if refusal to participate in the SOTP was grounds for denial of parole.

Martin A. Roman, a Pennsylvania state prisoner, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15-30 years. He was paroled after serving 15 years, but eight years later was convicted of indecent assault and corruption of a minor and sentenced to 16-32 months in prison. His parole from his murder conviction was also revoked with loss of street time.

The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole required Roman to participate in an SOTP program. Roman refused to participate on the grounds that the SOTP required him to admit his guilt, and such an admission would have jeopardized his then-pending appeal of the sex charges. Roman was denied parole multiple times with the Board citing, among other reasons, his refusal to participate in SOTP.

Roman filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in federal district court, alleging that the Board's requirement for him to participate in SOTP violated his Fifth Amendment right to be free of compelled self-incrimination. The district court dismissed the petition and Roman appealed.

The Third Circuit engaged in a lengthy discussion of what amounted to "compulsion" under the Fifth Amendment. Finding that there was no set standard, the appellate court set forth three principles based on McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24 (2002) [PLN, Oct. 2002, p.8]: First, requiring a prisoner to give incriminating statements solely for the purpose of gathering information for a criminal prosecution would violate the Fifth Amendment. This might not be the case were the requested statement "tethered to some independent, legitimate state purpose," such as rehabilitating offenders convicted of certain crimes. Second, if the penalty imposed amounts to an atypical and significant hardship, it is sufficient to violate the Fifth Amendment. Third, there are some penalties short of atypical and significant hardships which are still sufficient to constitute unconstitutional compulsion.

Applying these principles to the facts of this case, the Third Circuit held that "Roman's Fifth Amendment claim fails because the consequence he faces – the repeat[ed] denial of parole for refusing to participate in a rehabilitation program – does not rise to the level of compulsion necessary to violate the Fifth Amendment." This is because Pennsylvania law grants no right to parole, Roman's sentence was not lengthened and his actual conditions of confinement were not altered.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged that Roman was faced with a difficult choice, but found that it was one he could be forced to make. Therefore, the district court's dismissal of his habeas petition was affirmed. See: Roman v. Diguglielmo, 675 F.3d 204 (3d Cir. 2012), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

Roman v. Diguglielmo