Fifth Amendment

PENNSLYVANIA (Fifth Amendment) – Fifth Amendment Rights: Use Them or Lose Them

On March 28, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling delineating the extent to which the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination can be invoked against disclosure of an unrelated offense during treatment imposed as a condition of probation. In Commonwealth v. Knoble, David Knoble pled guilty to “charges of endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of minors, and criminal conspiracy to commit statutory assault, admitting he conspired with his then-wife for her to engage in sexual intercourse with his 14-year-old son while he observed.”

As part of his sentence, Knoble was ordered to comply with “special probation conditions” which required him to successfully complete a sex offender outpatient program. Failure to complete the program would constitute a probation violation. One of the conditions necessary to successful completion was honesty during the program. As part of the treatment, patients participated in “therapeutic polygraph tests” in which Knoble was asked about his sexual history. Knoble lied on multiple occasions during these polygraph tests but admitted these lies during group sessions where he confessed that the sexual history he attempted to hide during the polygraph tests was that “he had victimized other minors, and [he] accepted responsibility for a sexual offense against a minor for which he had previously been acquitted.”

Knoble was kicked out of the program for his continuous dishonesty, placing him in violation of his parole. Therefore, Knoble was sentenced on his underlying offenses. He challenged his conviction stating that the requirements of his probation, which forced him to incriminate himself during the therapeutic polygraphs, was a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights. The Superior Court agreed with Knoble and reversed the trial court’s sentence, concluding that “the questions posed during the polygraph tests improperly required Knoble to answer incriminating questions that would result in the divulgence of previously unreported criminal behavior.” The Commonwealth appealed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took the case to determine “whether the Superior Court erred in concluding a probationer may invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination for an unrelated offense, regardless of whether the information will be used in subsequent criminal proceedings, and whether such invocation must be made at the time of interrogation.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the therapeutic polygraphs that Knoble took, in which it was requested that he admit to crimes that could be used against him in a subsequent criminal trial, do not inherently violate the Fifth Amendment. The court ruled that Knoble could have invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege prior to submitting to the exam or when answering incriminating questions. Knoble voluntarily agreed to take the therapeutic polygraph tests as part of his treatment and the treatment was not supervised by police. Therefore, Knoble cannot claim to have been “compelled” to make his self-incriminating statements. Additionally, Knoble cannot claim that invoking, or attempting to invoke, his Fifth Amendment rights would have caused him to violate his probation. His probation called for him to be truthful in his therapy. This did not preclude Knoble from raising his Fifth Amendment privilege and nothing suggests that his probation would have been revoked for raising this privilege.

In an interesting twist, the court ruled that because Knoble failed to raise his Fifth Amendment privilege, and this privilege must be affirmatively invoked, his statements given during therapy in which he admitted to prior crimes may be used against him in a subsequent criminal trial. Additionally, the court overruled the Superior Court’s finding that Knoble’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated when his probation was revoked. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the reason for the revocation of Knoble’s probation was his violation of his special probation conditions requiring him to be honest during his treatment, not the admission of his prior crimes. Knoble would have been discharged for dishonesty regardless of whether his statements were self-incriminating. Therefore, the Fifth Amendment was not implicated and no violation occurred.

–Staff Writer

LOUISIANA (Criminal Procedure) – Drunken Statements Admissible: Chatty Drunks Beware

At some point in their lives, most people have had to deal with or be around a talkative drunk–a person who babbles when intoxicated. On March 30, 2012, the Louisiana Supreme Court handed down a summary reversal that should make talkative drunks sit up and take notice.

In August 2005 police responded to emergency calls of a blue Oldsmobile swerving erratically. Defendant displayed an “unsteady appearance, slurred speech, and the reasonable possibility she was experiencing a drug overdose . . . .” While paramedics treated her, police recovered a bottle of pills (prescribed to her former employer, a recent homicide victim) and a gun. “She appeared ‘heavily narcoticized’ and apparently told the deputy where she got the pills.” She did not confess to murdering her former employer. Her attorneys sought to suppress statements to police regarding the pills on the grounds that she was intoxicated. The trial judge suppressed them, but the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, allowing prosecutors to introduce the statements into evidence at trial.

First, the court stated that it now subscribes to the rule announced in the Supreme Court case Connelly v. Colorado, requiring coercive police activity in order for a confession and/or statement to be found involuntary (leading to possible suppression). Accordingly, a suspect can be intoxicated and still give a voluntary statement in the eyes of the law. “After Connelly, diminished mental capacity, which may result from intoxication, remains relevant to the voluntariness of a statement only to the extent that it ‘made mental or physical coercion by the police more effective.’”

Of course, there is also the issue of Miranda rights. Police did Mirandize the suspect in this case, but the state high court determined that they did not have to. In 1973 the United States Supreme Court reasoned that “‘[l]ocal police officers, unlike federal officers, frequently investigate vehicle accidents in which there is no claim of criminal liability and engaged in what . . . may be described as community caretaking functions . . . .’” If police are engaging in “community caretaking functions,” as they were here, then the Miranda warnings are not necessary. The Louisiana Supreme Court has previously held that “‘an individual’s responses to on-the-scene and non-custodial questioning, particularly when carried out in public, are admissible without Miranda warnings.’” The state high court may have to determine in a future case if intoxication renders a suspect’s waiver of the Miranda warnings invalid but not in this case.

Here, the police did not coerce the suspect in any way, and her statements, though given in an intoxicated state, are admissible at trial. Thus, when someone says, “The alcohol made me do it,” that is no longer an excuse to have a statement suppressed at trial in Louisiana.

For the opinion, see here.

For further news coverage, see NOLA.com

–Timothy Huffstutter

SOUTH DAKOTA (Criminal Procedure) – Guilty Plea Voided Because Defendant Was Not Informed He Waived His Rights

The South Dakota supreme court granted Garry Rosen habeas corpus relief because he was not correctly advised of his rights, and therefore his guilty plea to a kidnapping charge was involuntary and had to be voided.

The state high court found that Rosen “was never advised that by pleading guilty he would waive his right to trial by a jury, he would waive his right to compulsory process, and he would waive his right against self-incrimination.”

When Rosen was arraigned, he pleaded not guilty to three counts of kidnapping. He was not told, however, that if he pleaded guilty he would waive what the court refers to as Boykin rights (a federal standard): “the right to trial by a jury, the right to compulsory process, and the right against self-incrimination.” He was merely told he would waive his right to a trial. The court said that he was, however, advised of his constitutional rights.

At a later plea hearing agreement, a lower court judge informed Rosen that a guilty plea would waive his right to a trial, but did not inform Rosen of the other rights he would waive. Rosen later moved to have some of his rights further explained to him. The court said that the state explained the “burden of proving the charges against him, the meaning of reasonable doubt, and his right against self-incrimination,” but did not explain that a guilty plea waives Boykin rights.

Rosen was sentenced and later filed a petition of habeas corpus. The court that heard the habeas argument denied Rosen relief but granted a certificate of probable cause. The habeas court decided that the plea was voluntary based on the totality of the circumstances, such as his age and prior arrest record. The state supreme court said that was the incorrect standard to apply.

The South Dakota Supreme Court looked at the key U.S. Supreme Court case of Boykin in order to evaluated Rosen’s plea. That case says that the “record must affirmatively show . . . that the defendant explicitly waived” (second emphasis added by the South Dakota Supreme Court) his rights, and the record’s silence could not be interpreted as an explicit waiver.

Rosen’s guilty plea was voided.

South Dakota supreme court opinion

–Stephanie Latimer

Our Editors



Rebecca Green, College of William & Mary Law School

Scott Graves, National Center for State Courts