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Pitfalls of the Lie Detector Part 4

Pitfall #4  - Attorneys Wanting to Clear Their Clients

I must admit that I never understand it when defense attorneys are so stupid or naïve that they will encourage their clients to submit to a stipulated polygraph exam whose results can be used in court.   There is a good reason that polygraph results are inadmissible - they are no more accurate than flipping a coin (57% according to scientific studies).

The test subject basically is waiving his or her rights to have their attorney physically present when they are being examined.  Remember that a polygraph examination is indeed an interrogation.  I have seen “attorneys present” but they are not even in the same room, as they may “influence” the outcome of the examination.  What attorney in their right mind would have their client give up such a right?

You need to understand that a polygraph examination is not some sort of objective observer, making notations from a scientific device and recording their observations of the device and the subject.  This is how polygraph examinations are sold and marketed.  Yes, an examiner does observe the device’s readings, and does observe your behavior.  However, the test is completely subjective based upon what the examiner decides. The polygraph industry in the United States has done an excellent job of perpetrating the myth that polygraph exams are just a benign scientific pursuit of the truth.  Most people don’t realize that polygraph examiners are much more likely to see guilt where a truly disinterested and objective person might not.

Once again – there really is not a “pass” or “fail” to a polygraph exam. What may happen is that the victim of the scam or in other words, the person being tested “confesses” to some sort of indiscretion.  Once the suspect “fails,” the exam (once again – the subject giving some sort of confession), the examiner can testify that the suspect showed signs of deception.  The examiner can also say that the subject made incriminating statements and that they exhibited body language suggestive of guilt.

Even if the subject “passed” the exam, the examiner can testify that they used some kind of tongue biting techniques or similar counter-measures to trick the polygraph. Because of all of this, polygraph exams are the kiss of death for an innocent suspect, and many who have taken one plead guilty rather than face having the polygraph results used against them.

The bottom line is that polygraph examination results are only an opinion of the examiner, nothing more.  They may even include lines like “The polygraph data was analyzed by computer with an algorithm developed in the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University.  By computer, the data was evaluated to be truthful (or deceptive depending upon the test). The probability of Mr. Test Subject intended to deceive regarding questions (number of the relevant-issue questions) is measured to be __%.”  Just analyze the statement.  First of all, what does physics have to do with anything concerning lies?  Secondly, it has to based upon an assumption that people react to telling lies by increases in blood pressure, breathing rate and heart rate.  Thirdly, wouldn’t it be a biological or anatomy lab that would come up with said algorithm?  I think it is because when we throw physics together with computer analysis, it sounds so scientific that it has to be scientific!  See – it is just a marketed software program that is used by examiners, so they can claim objectivity.

The thing is that it is never in one’s own best interest to take a polygraph exam.  Even when you get peer pressure, or pressure from “the press” or anyone else, it is not in your best interest to take an exam.  I understand that the myth of the lie detector is completely bought by the American press.  That is why people will ask the dumb question “are you willing to take a lie detector test?”

Too many times, a person will often say that they have discussed their willingness to take a lie detector test with their attorney when the attorney evidently failed to keep them from participating in such foolishness.

I guess a possible exception to being in one’s best interest, is when it is under terms of attorney-client privilege. If the client doesn’t pass, the public will never hear about it, and his lawyer can have him or her be administered a polygraph examination by someone else until he does pass. Then his lawyer can announce to the world that his client has passed a polygraph.  While this is all good for newspapers, it never exonerates the client.

Whatever you do – stay safe!

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