Christina Lewis reports for Court TV. Excerpt:
(Court TV) – Richard Allen Nicolas’ story seemed suspicious. An unknown gunman shot at his car, killing his 2-year-old daughter, Aja. Plus, police found that his muffler was cold, although Nicolas said he had been parked a short time.
But police had little hard evidence against Nicolas until he was hooked up to a computer voice stress analyzer (CVSA), a machine designed to detect lies by monitoring small vibrations in a person’s voice, and failed the test. He confessed.
Nicolas is now serving life in prison without parole for his daughter’s murder.
To hear some police officers tell it, the CVSA, a laptop device designed to detect lies by monitoring a person’s voice, is the greatest thing since handcuffs.
Imagine: no need to corner a suspect, attach multiple wires to him and have an expensive professional ask him a number of specific control questions. To use the voice stress analyzer, police just play a tape of the suspect talking, run it through the $10,000 laptop, and find out if he’s truthful. So easy to use, the CVSA can surreptitiously verify the honesty of prospective employees, ferret out fraudulent insurance claims, and resolve disputes when it’s one person’s word against another’s. Or so its creators say.
According to the National Institute for Truth Verification, the Palm Beach-based company that makes and markets the CVSA, you simply attach a microphone to the subject (or to the tape recorder or phone line), run the sounds into the device and get your results.
The device monitors the frequency of “micro-tremors,” vibrations in the voice undetectable to human ears, that increase when a person lies. While the subject is speaking, the CVSA measures and displays any changes in the vibrations.
For each voice pattern the machine shows a graph: a high peak denotes a true statement, while a jagged plateau indicates a lie.
Approximately 1,200 law enforcement agencies use the CVSA, and supporters say that its convenience and accuracy will lead more departments to let their polygraphs, the more well-known truth verifier, start collecting dust.
But not everyone is enthusiastic about it. In at least a few high-profile cases, the device has appeared to be wrong. And a number of lawyers, civilians and scientists say the CVSA has no scientific validity.
“It’s basically a Ouija board,” said Nevada lawyer Ian Christopherson, who successfully defended a juvenile probation officer against a rape charge prosecuted largely on the basis of a voice stress test.
Christopherson’s client, Vincent Sedgewick, took a CVSA test assuming it would clear him. Instead, it pointed to him as the rapist. When DNA testing did not match him to the sample recovered from the victim, however, police arrested him as an accessory based on the CVSA results. Although CVSA tests cannot be used as evidence in court, in some states to support an indictment.
Critics of the CVSA say that officers’ belief in the infallibility of the lie detector is one of its greatest dangers.
In the case of 14-year-old Michael Crowe, a California teen who confessed to his older sister’s murder, investigators administered a CVSA that allegedly showed Crowe was lying when he claimed to know nothing about his sister’s murder. Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, investigators continued interrogating him after his voice stress test and got him to confess. A judge later through out his confession, and another man was charged with the crime.
“If you take a look at the Crowe case you have police relying upon this quackery directing their investigation in the wrong direction,” Christopherson said. “That’s why it’s incredible law enforcement allows this out there because people start believing that this device can actually be accurate.”