Jury Selection

You have likely heard about polygraph (lie detector) tests on television or in the movies. You might also have heard that the results of a lie detector test are not admissible in court. However, did you know that it hasn’t always been this way?

2 Men Convicted of Attempted Murder Based on Lie Detector Test Results in 1935

Back in 1935, two men stood trial for the attempted murder of a Portage, Washington, sheriff. The prosecution’s evidence only consisted of the sheriff’s testimony that the two men were the ones who tried to kill him.

The judge heard about Professor Leonarde Keeler’s lie detector and wanted both defendants to take the test. The professor administered his polygraph test and reported to the court that the two defendants were “likely lying.” This persuaded the jury to convict the two men.

After the trial, a member of the press asked the professor what all of it meant. The professor said, “It means that the findings of the lie detector are as acceptable in court as fingerprint testimony.”

Polygraphs Are Still Not Admissible in Court

Polygraphs today are used for job screenings, background checks and police investigations. Scientists feel the polygraph is not as impressive as it was once seen eight decades ago.

The Center for Law at Harvard had two doctors who published a paper last year on polygraph usage and results. They said that the results of polygraphs show “widely divergent rates of accuracy in detecting deception, some as low as chance and others as high as 95 percent.” The doctors said that each lie detector is different. The test itself hasn’t changed much since its debut in 1935. Even during that trial, the professor admitted that is was effective about 75 percent of the time.

United States v. Scheffer

In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the subject of polygraph admissibility. The Supreme Court ruled that the lower court’s ruling was incorrect. The lower court, a military court, said that a defendant’s right to present a defense was violated when lie detector results are not admissible. The Supreme Court said, “A fundamental premise of our criminal justice system is that the jury is the lie detector."

Have You Been Charged with a Crime and Taken a Polygraph?

If you have taken a polygraph during your detention or incarceration, be sure to inform your attorney. He or she can help determine what your next step should be in your criminal defense.