Massachusetts Police Officers May Be Forced to Take Lie Detector Tests

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that law enforcement officers in the state can be compelled to submit to lie detector “testing” in the course of internal investigations. John R. Ellement reports for the Boston Globe:

BOSTON — Saying public confidence in law enforcement must be protected, the state’s high court today ruled that police officers can be forced to take lie detector tests when subjected to internal department investigations.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled against Plymouth Police Officer Kevin J. Furtado, who was accused in 1999 of sexually abusing two minor children, an allegation the mother of the children publicly declared to be unfounded, according to the SJC.

Moreover, Plymouth County prosecutors decided against bringing criminal charges. Furtado then became the target of an internal police investigation, but refused to take a lie detector test, citing state law that bans employers from pressuring workers to undergo testing.

The law, however, allows lie detector tests to be conducted by law enforcement doing criminal investigations. Furtado argued there was no criminal case because prosecutors had chosen not to file charges against him.

But the SJC today said that exception must also apply to police officers and the leaders of the state’s police departments, even when no criminal case is immediately likely. In the ruling written by Justice Robert Cordy, the SJC drew on words from a 1984 ruling on the same general issue.

“We have little hesitation in concluding that, when the functions of a police department are disrupted by allegations of criminal conduct by police officers, the police department’s decision to subject officers reasonably suspected of criminal activities to lie detector tests furthers law enforcement objectives,’’ the court said.

Cordy also wrote, “the ‘criminal investigations’ exception applies where the conduct under investigation would constitute a crime even though criminal prosecution was not possible at the time of the administration of the lie detector test.’

For further reading, see the Massachusett’s Supreme Judicial Court’s slip opinion (PDF) in Kevin J. Furtado vs. Town of Plymouth et al.

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