Commonwealth v. Knoble, 2 MAP 2012 (Pa. 2012)

During the latter half of February, and continuing until the beginning of April in 2004, David Knoble conspired to sexually assault his underage son with his then wife.  Knoble and his wife carried their plan into action when, during March of 2004, Appellant’s wife had sex with D.K., then fourteen years old, while Appellant watched.

On February 22, 2005, Appellant entered an open plea of guilty to the charges of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Corruption of Minors, and Criminal Conspiracy to Engage in Statutory Sexual Assault.  On May 18, 2005, the trial court sentenced Knoble to undergo imprisonment for not less than one year, nor more than two years, following which he was to serve probation for a period of four years.  In addition, Judge Carpenter imposed special conditions of sentence, including 200 hours of community service, a $30 per month offender supervision fee, reimbursement to the victim, and Appellant’s compliance with “any special conditions of probation/parole/intermediate punishment imposed by the Montgomery County Adult Probation/Parole Dept. Or the PA Board of Probation and Parole.”

Knoble  served his two year maximum sentence after failing to achieve parole.   On May 17, 2007, he was released from State Prison and began his special probation sentence.  In accordance with the trial court’s order authorizing additional special conditions of probation, a Pennsylvania Probation Officer required that Knoble not possess pictures of minor children, that he not possess or consume alcohol, and that he successfully complete sex offender treatment.

On May 29, 2007, Knoble underwent a sex offender intake assessment with T.W. Ponessa & Associates, following which he was admitted into weekly group sex offender counseling.  On July 18, 2007, he underwent a therapeutic sexual history polygraph examination.  The results of the examination indicated that Knoble was deceptive when asked questions.  Following his polygraph examination, he admitted that he had withheld information concerning his sexual history and, eventually, admitted to additional sexual crimes.  Following this admission, and based on Knoble’s numerous lies during therapy, as well as his possession of contraband, he was brought to a probation violation hearing, at which probation was revoked.

Knoble appealed, and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed.  They concluded that polygraphs could not be alluded to at all during testimony and, as such, the probation revocation could not stand.  In addition, they held that the polygraph—which inquired into Knoble’s prior crimes—violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Commonwealth petitioned for allowance of appeal and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted allocatur.  Today, in a unanimous opinion, the Court reversed the decision of the Superior Court, and remanded the matter for parole revocation to be reinstated.

Specifically, the Court agreed with the Commonwealth that the Fifth Amendment is not self-executing; it is a privilege that must be invoked.  In other words, if a defendant admits to a crime, he cannot claim that the admission was compelled and therefore inadmissible at a subsequent hearing.  Instead, he is required to invoke the privilege in the first place.

Even more particularly with respect to probation violators, the Court noted that the agreement to participate in sex offender therapy was, to a large extent, voluntary.  As such, Knoble’s complaint, after the fact, that he was coerced lacked credibility.  Finally, the Court observed that Knoble’s probation revocation was based on multiple factors, including his possession of contraband, and therefore, even absent the admissions, probation was properly revoked.

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