Tremors of the Trade

Retired NYPD detective Warren J. Sonne writes for in an article titled, “Tremors of the Trade: Investigative Tool or Troublesome Black Magic?” Excerpt:

Over the past decade, police departments all over this country have lined up to purchase Voice Stress Analyzers. In a country that has placed restrictive rules of law on the police such as Mapp v Ohio (Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule against unreasonable searches and seizures) and Miranda v Arizona (Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and Sixth Amendment right to counsel). My question is, “Are PDs playing with fire?”

I believe that the plain answer is, “yes.”

I think that the first problem comes from the “Pac-Man” generation. Give us a high-tech toy and some practice, and within an hour we will defeat those lying criminals. Once we’ve done that, we can move on to the next level. Hey, CSI solves two or three crimes during their one-hour episodes, don’t they? Well, if they can do itÂ….

There are no quick fixes to criminal investigations, nor are there magic boxes to help detectives figure out who’s lying. There are no shortcuts to competent investigations — at least, there shouldn’t be.

The second problem that I see originates in the many high profile false confession cases that have plagued our profession. The Central Park Jogger case in New York is just one such example. In April of 1989, a young woman was assaulted and raped while running inside of New York’s Central Park. Investigation identified five teenagers as suspects to this crime, and subsequent interrogations produced confessions from four of them. This led to all five being convicted for this crime. In 2002, an unrelated person confessed to this crime, and his confession was coroborrated by DNA. This person, Matias Reyes, claimed that he acted alone. Since there was no corroborating evidence against the five teenagers, other than their confessions, their convictions were overturned.

There are many other cases that have been overturned by the courts involving people, some of them mentally challenged, who have confessed to crimes that they didn’t commit. As a result, many police departments across the country have instituted polices requiring the videotaping of all confessions, with some departments recording all, or nearly all, interviews.

So, do we really need a Supreme Court decision here? Another Miranda? “You have the right to remain quiet and refuse to play the CVSA Game.”

A third issue is, does it work? What is Voice Stress Analysis (VSA), also called Computerized Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA)? The equipment now being produced is in the form of very nice looking computers that allegedly measure “micro-tremors” in the voice. The manufacturers of this equipment claim that these micro-tremors are produced when people are under stress, such as when they are lying. One obvious problem is that stress can and does occur for many other reasons in addition to lying.

Some scientific studies (not all) have verified that these micro-tremors exist and can be measured. Unfortunately, these same scientists and their studies have failed to demonstrate lie detection accuracy using CVSA at anything better than chance (flipping a coin).

I visited the web site of the leading CVSA manufacturer, The National Institute for Truth Verification, but other than their claims that CVSA works as a lie detector, I could find no scientific studies to back it up. What I did find were a half-dozen or so endorsements from police officers who were scattered around the country. Yet, not one these endorsement actually claimed that the CVSA worked as a lie detector. It was called a “valuable tool,” and most of endorsers seemed to like the training program, or the versatility of it, but not one claimed that it was an accurate lie detector.

I remember the Xerox machine being a valuable investigative tool as well. All the detective had to do was push the magic button and out came a piece of paper with the word LIE or TRUTH on it. “What’s your name?” was the first question. “Sam Jones” was the reply. Push the button and out came the answer “TRUE.” “Okay Sam, you’ve done pretty well so far. Now, did you steal your Bill Doe’s bike this morning?” asked the detective. “No,” says Sam.” Push the Xerox button, and here comes the answer, “LIE.”

Some of you may laugh, yet others will remember the utility of this less than scientific procedure. People can be awestruck by the appearance of science. Before the advent of the Xerox machine, people had to use “carbon paper” if they wanted copies. People could certainly be naïve in those days. Well, faced with the scientific appearance of CVSA, people can still be naïve in these days as well. The argument for CVSA seems to be based on the utility of the device, not the accuracy of it.

Sonne is absolutely right. But his criticisms of voice stress analysis are largely applicable not only to voice stress analysis, but to polygraphy, too.

American Polygraph Association Says Bogus Ph.D. No Grounds for Disciplinary Action!

In reply to an ethics complaint against polygrapher Edward I. Gelb of Los Angeles, who is falsely holding himself out to the public as a Ph.D., the American Polygraph Association has stated that “the APA does not attempt nor does it presume to govern the designation of titles or degrees conferred upon its members.”

As far as the APA is concerned, Gelb is free to continue misleading the public about his academic credentials. For the full story, see Ethics Complaint Against Edward I. Gelb on the message board.

NYPD Polygraph Program

Philip Messing of the New York Post reports on the New York Police Department’s polygraph program:



June 5, 2006 — Call it the NYPD “Truth Squad.”

They’re nearly one dozen newly trained detectives skilled in administering “lie detector” exams – tests given to several hundred witnesses and criminal suspects since last fall, The Post has learned. Six of the new experts are members of the NYPD Major Case Squad who were trained last fall to become experts in smelling a lie.

NYPD Deputy Chief Jeremiah Quinlan, who heads the Special Investigations Division, said the push to train new NYPD polygraph experts began last July. So far, he said, exam results have been interesting.

“We knew one guy who failed,” Quinlan recalled with a laugh, “after he tried to disconnect the machine when the polygraph examiner momentarily left the room.”

The detective polygraphists – five men and one woman picked from 30 applicants – are assigned to satellite NYPD offices in The Bronx and Queens.

From Sept. 10 through May 28, Quinlan’s corps of polygraphists conducted 154 exams.

Meanwhile, five other detectives – four men and a woman – have performed scores of exams for the NYPD Organized Crime Control Bureau, sources said.

Polygraphs are administered to “subjects” – people who may later emerge as criminal suspects – or witnesses whose credibility remains in doubt. It can be given only to someone who volunteers to take it – and is never given to sex-crime victims, pregnant women or people with heart conditions.

Of course, the NYPD’s “truth squad” can only hurt those criminals gullible enough to believe that the polygraph can detect deception. Because polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, is inherently biased against the truthful, and yet is readily circumvented through the use of simple countermeasures that members of the “truth squad” cannot detect, the NYPD would be wise not to rely on polygraph chart readings to guide their investigations. To its credit, the NYPD does not rely on polygraphs to screen applicants for employment.

The Polygraph-Induced Confession of Sandra Kemper

On 1 June 2006, Sandra Kemper was released from the St. Louis County, Missouri Justice Center after four-years of pre-trial detention, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today in “Woman accused of killing son is set free,” by William C. Lhotka. Kemper had confessed to setting a fire that killed her 15-year-old son during a post-polygraph interrogation conducted by Detective Kenneth Schunzel, a polygraph operator with the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, who has since died. Schunzel told Kemper she had “failed” and conducted a lengthy post-test interrogation despite the fact, attested to by Dr. David Raskin, that by commonly accepted polygraph standards, she had clearly “passed.” Lhotka reports that Judge David Lee Vincent III, who heard evidence in the case, stated: “When I first saw the video evidence of the examination, I was shocked at the conduct of the polygraph examiner… He was using a polygraph as a guise to interrogate Mrs. Kemper.”

The Missouri Supreme Court summarized the case in a recent slip opinion:

About four months after her son was killed in a November 2001 fire at the family’s home, Sandra Kemper was taken into police custody and interrogated. She denied having any part in the fire initially and during a three-hour polygraph examination. Kemper was told the polygraph results had shown that she was lying about not being involved in the fire. She subsequently made two confessions, stating that she had planned the fire to obtain insurance payments and explaining how she had set the fire, although some of her statements were inconsistent with the physical evidence. The state charged Kemper with arson, first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree assault. In overruling a motion filed by the state, the trial court ruled that evidence of the polygraph could be admitted if the state attempted to introduce either of Kemper’s confessions. At trial, the state played for the jury Kemper’s two taped confessions as well as the administering detective’s statements that Kemper had failed the polygraph and that she had shown “signs of deception.” Because the court found that the state had opened the door to the polygraph results, the trial court permitted Kemper to present testimony from a polygraph expert who testified that Kemper had passed the polygraph and that the detective had misrepresented the results to her when he told her she had failed it. The next day, the trial court declared a mistrial on its own motion over Kemper’s objection, finding the admission of the polygraph results caused a manifest injustice. Kemper then moved to dismiss based on double jeopardy. The court overruled the motion and set the case for retrial, indicating that Kemper’s attorney exceeded the scope of its earlier orders by eliciting evidence of the polygraph results rather than just the fact that a polygraph had been taken. Kemper seeks a writ of prohibition from this Court.


Court en banc holds: (1) Generally, both the fact that a defendant took a polygraph and the results of the polygraph are inadmissible in Missouri criminal trials, and the parties may not stipulate to waive this inadmissibility. The polygraph test and its results are admissible here, however, because the state introduced Kemper’s confessions, which apparently were made in part because the detective incorrectly told Kemper she had failed the examination. As a result, they form the circumstances surrounding the confessions that are the basis of the state’s case. The credibility of Kemper’s confession is a matter for the jury, and evidence of the circumstances surrounding the confession is essential for the jury to assess credibility. In limited circumstances such as these, the state may not introduce a confession into evidence without polygraph evidence also being admissible.

(2) The Missouri constitution’s protection against double jeopardy does not bar Kemper’s retrial because it only applies to retrial after an acquittal. The federal constitution’s protection against double jeopardy, however, does bar the state from retrying Kemper because there was no manifest necessity requiring the trial court to declare a mistrial. Once her trial began, Kemper had the right to have her trial completed by the jury that had been selected. She did not request or consent to the mistrial. Rather, she objected strongly and offered a limiting instruction that would have instructed the jury how to consider the polygraph evidence. Considering all the circumstances, particularly the trial court’s earlier ruling that the polygraph results were relevant in evaluating Kemper’s confession, it appears the trial judge simply changed his mind, and so there was no manifest necessity.

This case is yet another that illustrates the importance of recording all custodial interrogations. Had the interrogation of Sandra Kemper not been videotaped, there would have been no objective record of what happened during the interrogation. For background on the Sandra Kemper case, see “Fire Proof” by Riverfront Times reporter Kristen Hinman.

Pharmacist Caught on Videotape Stealing Pills Passed Polygraph

Matt McFarland reports for (News Channel 13, Albany, New York). Excerpt:

Drug Trafficking Ring in Warren County

May 20, 2006

A drug trafficking ring was recently discovered by authorities in Warren County. Jaime Meyers 28 of Selkirk, along with a husband and wife from Chestertown are behind bars. Authorities recently found these three people working together. Officials say that Janice Jeremias and husband Gerald Jeremias who work as pharmacy technicians at Brooks Pharmacy in Chestertown, are accused of stealing prescription painkillers. They then would give them to Jaime Meyers to sell. Meyers would give the couple cocaine and money in return and would sell the pills to friends.

Authorities started to keep tabs on Jeremias last year when the pharmacy noticed pills were missing. They gave her a lie detector test which she passed, but it wasn’t until recently she was caught. Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan says, “It turns out the woman who passed the polygraph had in fact been stealing the hydrocodone for a year and a half and they have her on video”.

Hoffa Informant Donovan Wells Passed FBI Polygraph

Pete Yost of the Associated Press reports:

Hoffa Informant Said to Pass Polygraph

Informant, a Prison Inmate, Recently Passed a Polygraph in Hoffa Probe, Investigator Says


The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The informant who is spurring the search for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains is an ailing prison inmate who recently passed a polygraph exam in the probe, says a government investigator who is familiar with the FBI operation in Michigan.

The informant, Donovan Wells, 75, remembers “suspicious activity” on what is now called Hidden Dreams Farm in Milford Township, Mich., at the time Hoffa disappeared, the investigator said Friday.

The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity because some of the information he was relating comes from records that have been ordered sealed by a federal judge. Among them is an FBI affidavit detailing the basis for the search warrant used to dig up the ground on the horse farm.

On the day Hoffa vanished, the property was owned by Hoffa associate Rolland McMaster, according to Oakland County, Mich., property records. McMaster’s attorney says FBI agents visited the 93-year-old retired Teamster this week.

Hoffa was last seen on July 30, 1975, at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant about 20 miles from the farm, which McMaster owned throughout the 1970s.

As one example of the account Wells is telling the FBI, the investigator said Wells remembers seeing a number of cars on the property at the time Hoffa vanished, and then a short time later the cars were gone.

The information does not involve an eyewitness to the disappearance or a killing, said the investigator.

Regarding Wells and the recent lie detector test, authorities think he believes the story he’s telling, the investigator added.

Because polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, being inherently biased against the truthful yet easily manipulated using simple countermeasures that polygraphers have no demonstrated ability to detect, polygraph results should not be relied upon to determine whether a lead is credible.

DEA Polygraph Report Available Online

In “Leaked Report: Drug Traffickers Obtained Classified DEA Documents from U.S. Embassy in Bogota ‘At Will,'” Bill Conroy of The Narco News Bulletin discloses a report (1.3 mb PDF) on the polygraph examination of a confidential source by DEA Special Agent E. Victor Perez. Despite widespread agreement in the polygraph community that polygraph examinations should not be conducted after extensive interrogation, Perez polygraphed the confidential source at the request of the DEA Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) after 12 hours of interrogation by others.

At the instruction of OPR, Perez used the relatively uncommon Peak of Tension (POT) technique. According to the Federal Psychophysiological Detection of Deception Examiner Handbook:

The POT was developed by Leonarde Keeler to determine possible guilty knowledge possessed by an examinee. It is used most frequently after an examination in which a DI opinion has been rendered. The known-solution POT is used when an examinee denies any knowledge regarding a specific element of a crime or incident that has been verified through investigation or other means. The searching POT is used when the crucial key area is suspected to be known by an examinee who denies such knowledge. This format is also known as the unknown or probing POT.

The foregoing does not seem to fit the confidential source’s situation. Ultimately, Perez made a “no opinion” call, noting among other things that the examinee was “physically and mentally exhausted.”

Interestingly, Perez notes that he would have preferred to use the completely discredited Relevant/Irrelevant technique, writing “It is my opinion that with a little more information and preparation, I would have conducted a R/I testing technique vs. a POT, which could have yielded better test results by addressing more pointedly the issues to be resolved.”

The fundamental problem with polygraphy is that it just doesn’t work. Instead of relying on voodoo science to assess the truthfulness of informants, law enforcement officers should use actual investigation to confirm or disconfirm the information provided.

Barry Lynn Interview with Drew Richardson and Charles Honts

On Tuesday, 16 May 2006, radio talk show host Barry Lynn interviewed polygraph experts Drew Richardson and Charles Honts on his Culture Shocks program. A courteous debate of the pros and cons of polygraphy ensued, and a call was taken from’s George Maschke. An MP3 podcast of the hour-long show may be downloaded here.

Duke University Lacrosse Player David Evans Releases Polygraph Report

On Tuesday, 16 May, recently graduated Duke University lacrosse team captain David Evans released the results of a polygraph examination that his lawyer says shows he is innocent of a rape charge for which he was recently indicted. makes no judgment on Evans’ guilt or innocence, but the polygraph results are evidence of nothing. To begin with, polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, and the results are easily manipulated through the use of simple countermeasures that polygraphers have no demonstrated ability to detect.

Moreover, under terms of attorney-client privilege, a lawyer can take his client from polygrapher to polygrapher until he “passes” a polygraph examination. The results of any failures can be kept secret. Thus, the results of attorney-brokered polygraph examinations have less than zero diagnostic value, as the only results that will ever be made public are those that favor the client. The main purpose for releasing such polygraph results is to shape public opinion, including that of potential jurors, with “evidence” that would not be admissible in court.

It should also be noted that the computerized scoring algorithm touted by polygrapher Robert J. Drdak was completely discredited by a panel of scientific experts who conducted an independent review.

John Stevenson of the Durham Herald-Sun reports on Evans’s polygraph results in “Lie Detector Report Released”: 

Lie detector report released

By John Stevenson : The Herald-Sun
May 16, 2006 : 10:36 pm ET

DURHAM — In a lie-detector examination he apparently passed, indicted Duke University lacrosse player David Evans said not only that he didn’t assault the accuser, but also that he didn’t see or hear anyone else assault her, nor does he know about anyone else assaulting her.

Evans’ attorney released a copy of the polygraph examiner’s report Tuesday, a day after District Attorney Mike Nifong indicted Evans on one count each of first-degree rape, first-degree sex offense and first-degree kidnapping. The report is not admissible in court.

The polygraph examiner, Robert J. Drdak of Advanced Credibility Assessment Services in Charlotte, wrote attorney Joe Cheshire that he believed “this examination strongly supports the truthfulness of Mr. Evans?.”

Drdak said Evans’ answers were “well within the non-deceptive range” and were cross-checked by two methods. One of those was a computerized scoring algorithm developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory, a nonprofit technology development organization at Johns Hopkins University.

Continue reading Duke University Lacrosse Player David Evans Releases Polygraph Report

Eau Claire, Wisconson Police Polygraphist Todd Trapp Fired reports that the police polygraph operator accused of administering “sloppy” polygraph examinations has been fired:

Police Officer Fired
Sarah Stokes

An Eau Claire police officer was fired Tuesday after the police and fire commission decided he conducted questionable polygraph tests.

Todd Trapp was accused of not keeping documents related to the polygraphs he worked on and finding incorrect results.

Now the Eau Claire Police Department will have to review all the cases Trapp worked on and see if investigators need to question the people who took polygraphs with Trapp again.

He was a 20 plus year veteran of the force and has been on administrative leave for three months.

He will receive his pension for his years of service. Trapp’s attorney says his client is disappointed, but has not yet made a decision on an appeal.