“Case Underscores Pitfalls of Voice Analysis”

Staff writer Steven Mayer of the Bakersfield Californian reports. Excerpt:

When Escondido police questioned 14-year-old Michael Crowe in the days following the 1998 stabbing death of his 12-year-old sister, investigators used a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer during the interrogation.

The analyzer — a lie detector of sorts used by an estimated 1,300 police agencies in the United States, including some in Kern County — allegedly showed Michael was lying when he said he knew nothing about his sister’s murder.

“Science is in our favor. Technology is on our side,” detectives told the distraught teen-ager.

Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, the boy eventually came to doubt his own memory. Over the course of several days of interrogation, police lied to him about finding his sister’s blood in his room. But lying to suspects — even about physical evidence — is not against the law.

With the help of the voice-stress analyzer and police disinformation regarding evidence, Michael eventually broke down and confessed.

More than a year later, a judge threw out Michael’s confession after his sister’s DNA matched blood found spattered on the clothes of a mentally ill transient who was seen near the Crowe residence the night of the killing.

The case has since shed new light on police interrogation techniques, and raised serious concerns about the widespread use by police of the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer.

“It’s voodoo science,” said Kyle Humphrey, a criminal defense attorney in Bakersfield who also spent several years as a prosecutor in the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.

Humphrey said the devices increase the chance that police will get a false confession, especially from immature or uneducated people who may be fooled into believing the devices are infallible.

“When you are told by police you failed the test, you are out of hope,” he said. “I will not allow any client to participate in interviews using a voice-stress analyzer.”

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