Pennsylvania Finds that Game Wardens Cannot Violate Suspect’s 5th Amendment Rights

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A Pennsylvania man, who was locked in a battle against the state’s Game Commission, has recently won an important court case that could have wide reaching implications, not only in the state of Pennsylvania, but across the country.  Though the case centered on a $150 fine that was levied against the man, it was the ensuing legal battle, and the legal arguments that he made, which will have long-term consequences.

Two years ago Pennsylvania farmer Jack Coble was approached at his Pennsylvania farm by a game warden, and questioned about his connection with killing a deer.  When Coble did not answer the game warden’s questions directly and honestly, he was charged with a crime – not answering a game warden’s questions truthfully – and was cited with a $150 fine.  For many people that may have been the end of it, but Coble was not happy.  He challenged the citation in court, claiming that the constitution provides protections against self-incrimination in the Fifth Amendment.

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During the incident in question Coble, who was in his late fifties at the time, was on painkillers after a serious farming related injury.  The game warden appeared at his house while responding to reports that there had been spotlights and the sound of gunshots somewhere on Coble’s 120 acre farm.  At first Coble cooperated with the warden and drove him around the farm looking for the cause of the disturbance.  But Coble later became irate after arriving at his barn, where the game warden encountered Coble’s daughter and another man with a dead deer.

Coble’s attorney states that game wardens are to be treated equally to all other law enforcement agencies under the constitution.  As such, game wardens cannot be afforded additional law enforcement powers which would compel a suspect to self-incriminate, or face legal penalties for failing to do so.

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