We’ve all seen the movies. A suspect is fastened to a chair in a dimly lit room. There are wires attached to their fingers, a strap across the chest, and needles jump across a chart with knowing glances between the administrator and the detective. While these scenes are suspenseful plot devices, they are actually just a dramatized version of a polygraph test. The entertainment industry may take a fair amount of liberties with their depiction, but there are some things they get right – others they do not.
Depending on the circumstances, polygraph tests are sometimes utilized in criminal cases and it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Put simply, a polygraph examination is a lie detection test, where a machine measures your blood pressure, pulse, skin conductivity, and respiration while an examiner asks you a series of questions. The polygraph was invented in the 1920s, and its use is rather limited outside of the United States. This is mainly because polygraphs are simply not very good at telling whether or not people are lying. For example, the National Research Council has stated that among people “untrained in countermeasures, specific-incident polygraph tests can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below perfection.” This creates a wide margin of error that rightfully should not be trusted, when serious criminal matters are involved.
If you’ve been charged or are being investigated for a crime in Virginia and someone suggests that you take a polygraph test, do not consent until you’ve discussed the issue with an experienced attorney. For a free and confidential consultation, call a Roanoke criminal defense lawyer with Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico at (540) 343-9349 or submit a request online.
You Cannot be Forced to Take a Polygraph Test
There is no law in Virginia or throughout the United States for that matter that makes it illegal to refuse a polygraph test. So, there is no situation where you can legally be forced to take such a test. However, if you want to get a job in security, law enforcement, or a position that puts you in custody of large sums of cash, sensitive materials, or even illegal drugs, passing a polygraph may be a condition of your employment. In these situations, no one is truly forcing you. You are agreeing to do so – because you want the job.
According to your constitutional rights, no one accused of a crime is ever required to talk to the police. This would be considered self-incrimination, but people sometimes try to talk themselves out of trouble or explain their situation. Remember, members of law enforcement are well trained in making people believe that talking to them is in their best interest and they use that to their advantage. This leads to a lot of polygraph tests even when they aren’t required or beneficial. Polygraph tests are essentially uncounseled statements to the police because attorneys are not generally present. This can typically and unfortunately cause more problems than it solves. No matter what tactics the police use against you, you are fully within your rights to refuse a polygraph test at any stage of the criminal justice process. If you ever find yourself in one of those dimly lit rooms, you should politely decline to participate until you’ve discussed the matter with a qualified attorney.
Polygraph Test Results Cannot Be Used As Evidence in Virginia Courts
If you do agree to a polygraph while under police questioning, you might be worried about the results being admitted as evidence and used against you at trial. However, the test’s findings need to be analyzed by an independent examiner and since their findings are open to interpretation, they are officially considered opinions. As a result, the polygraph examiner’s opinion whether you were truthful or not is inadmissible as evidence in all court proceedings in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In the 2009 case of Turner v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirmed the court’s long-held position that “polygraph examinations are so thoroughly unreliable as to be of no proper evidentiary use whether they favor the accused, implicate the accused, or are agreed to by both parties.” In Turner, the court extended the inadmissibility of polygraph tests to parole hearings, even though such hearings have generally relaxed evidentiary standards.
It’s important to note that the prohibition of polygraph evidence only concerns the opinions of the polygraph operator or anyone else offering “expert” opinions regarding the results. This means that the statements you make during the polygraph test, and any pre or post-polygraph interview may still be offered as evidence. The courts simply exclude the opinion of whether your statements are true or false.
How a Roanoke Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
Despite their unreliability and limited courtroom value, polygraph tests are an interrogation tool that gives law enforcement and prosecutors a significant edge, while your rights suffer. Any number of things can influence the results, causing false positives and negatives. It’s been documented that anyone with a significant, albeit unrelated life secret can be viewed as deceptive even if a truthful response was provided. Additionally, subjective questions can also create confusion. For example, if a subject is asked if they participate is kinky sex acts or use drugs, the answer provided would be based on what the target deemed kinky or whether they fely their prescribed medication is considered a drug.
Therefore, you should not, under any circumstances, consent to a polygraph test if you are being investigated for a crime. Even if you know you are innocent and pass the polygraph test with flying colors, the police may gain other incriminating or embarrassing information. They may even believe you “beat” the test and continue their investigation. Instead, you should exercise your right to remain silent and a call a Virginia criminal defense lawyer to handle your case.
At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we know the tactics used against the accused and have built our reputation on our ability to obtain favorable outcomes in high stakes criminal cases. Call us today at (540) 343-9349 for a free case evaluation.