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Probation Revocation for Refusal to Participate in Polygraph Tests Upheld

by Christopher Zoukis

On May 16, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling which found a convicted sex offender did not violate the terms of his probation by refusing to participate in court-ordered treatment that included polygraph exams.

Carl Daniel Ruch argued that requiring him to participate in the treatment program would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The appellate court agreed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, upholding Ruch’s probation violation.

“[W]e perceive no Fifth Amendment violation here,” the Court wrote. “In these circumstances, Ruch’s purported invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights was premature and amounted to a prohibited blanket assertion of the privilege.”

The problem, according to the Supreme Court, was that Ruch had not actually been asked any questions that would have required him to incriminate himself. “[W]e conclude that Ruch’s refusal to attend treatment based on his hypothetical concerns as to what might have been asked of him amounted to a blanket claim of privilege in advance of any questions being propounded, and this blanket claim was both ineffective and premature,” the Court stated.

The narrow ruling only applies to attempts to invoke the Fifth Amendment in anticipation of potentially incriminating questions. Nothing in the ruling would prohibit Ruch, or others, from invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when actually asked a possibly incriminating question during a polygraph exam.

Ruch was represented by public defenders Douglas K. Wilson and Michael C. Mattis. See: People v. Ruch, 2016 CO 35, 379 P.3d 309 (Colo. 2016). 

Related legal case

People v. Ruch