Texas DPS Polygraph School Graduation Ceremony Showcases Law Enforcement’s Faith in the Pseudoscience of Polygraphy

On Friday, 12 March 2021, the Texas Department of Public Safety Polygraph School graduated its 29th class. In the midst of the most deadly pandemic to hit the United States in a century, and in defiance of current U.S. Center for Disease Control guidance and the city of Austin’s and Travis County’s mask mandates, participants did not wear masks and did not observe social distancing. They did, however, shake hands and touch their faces.

No masks, no social distancing, hand-shaking, and face touching at Texas DPS Polygraph School’s Class 29 graduation ceremony

Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw, a retired FBI agent who once headed the Bureau’s Inspection Division, gave the graduation address, portions of which AntiPolygraph.org has transcribed. In remarks that are often ungrammatical, McCraw expresses an evidently sincere belief in the pseudoscience of polygraphy, condescension for those who oppose it, and at the same time a recognition that polygraphy is all about interrogation and obtaining confessions. He expresses no concern for potential harm to innocent persons:

Texas Department of Public Safety Commander Steven C. McCraw

I do believe that this is such a important part, discipline, law enforcement discipline, without question. I’ve seen the benefit of it and in a world where crime is transitory—I know the sheriff and I were talking a little bit about it—you know it’s, wherever you’re at, whether it’s North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, certainly Louisiana or Texas, I mean what happens somewhere happens somewhere else. And we recognize that we’re working pretty much the same criminal organizations, the same criminals, and this, this thing, as long as there’s an unending demand for sex with children, we’re, we’re plagued with this depravity of mankind when we talk about what’s going on.

And, and at the end of the day, your job is to get the truth, and of course, we’re, we’re very proud about the school, and pleased that we’re able to produce it, but it’s only as good as the people you put into it, plain and simple. I mean, you are sitting here, there’s a good reason. You’ve exhibited throughout your career not just integrity, but good judgment, and interview, interview skills. I mean you have, already have the tools to get the confessions. You’ve demonstrated that. So you, whether you have a tool or not, but having the science behind it and the tool to help is so vitally important.

From the department’s standpoint, I guess from our standpoint, and I can tell you an example, if nothing else, pre-employment polygraphs. It’s amazing what people will walk into a door wanting to be a state trooper. I mean, we’ve got pedophiles, okay, obviously, we have, we have people who are planning armed robberies of a, an armored vehicle, we’ve had individuals that were thinking about fragging their leadership in Afghanistan. So there’s some, there’s criminals out there applying, and if not for, because the background looked good, everything looked good, if not for those pre-employment, you know, interviews, during confessions that many times those confessions happen even before the interview, before their polygraph is given, because of the quality of our people that are providing that uh, that pre-polygraph interview that they’re conducting, going over the particular facts. And it’s amazing, you know, how we’ve been saved.

While law enforcement applicants sometimes make disqualifying admissions, polygraph screening also results in many honest, well-qualified applicants being wrongly branded as liars and blacklisted. There is no evidence that law enforcement agencies that polygraph applicants have a more honest workforce than those that don’t. Notably, state and local law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Oregon are prohibited by law from polygraphing applicants and employees.

McCraw continues:

So there’s people that don’t really like the polygraph in the legislature, in some other parts of the judicial system, but they don’t understand it, or haven’t seen it, and don’t recognize that, how productive it is.

McCraw’s supposition that those who “don’t really like the polygraph” don’t understand it is ill-founded. Those who understand polygraphy the best tend to oppose it. For example, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a thorough review of the scientific evidence on the polygraph and likened polygraphy to superstitious lie detection rituals in primitive societies.

As the late Dr. Stephen Fienberg, who led the National Academy of Sciences’ polygraph review committee observed, “Polygraph testing has been the gold standard, but it’s obviously fool’s gold.”

McCraw goes on:

At the end of the day, no one goes to jail on a polygraph. There’s got to be corroborating evidence. But there’s so many times where it’s a he said, she said, and you don’t know. And I can say even from a disciplinary standpoint as a director, when you’re looking at somebody that, you know, has, has compromised their integrity, but they’re consistent they had not, and you know, you don’t want to lose a good employee, or employee that appears to be a good employee, that’s worked so hard, you invested in, and you know, you don’t wanna, just based upon, you know, circumstantial evidence remove somebody, but at the end of the day, the polygraph is the great separator.

I mean that then, was it last week when someone I swore was telling me the truth. I moved finally, I thought that somebody that’s telling me something, here’s, here is a candidate we’re firing and it’s just unfair, uh, because clearly, he didn’t do it. Guess what? He lied, okay? And I wouldn’t have been able to know that unless there was a polygraph given in that regard.

Tactical polygraphs. Whoever came up with a tact—who’s idea was that anyway? Matt, did you have something to do with that? Yeah, somebody conspired. That’s a cool name, right? Not a strategic polygraph, but a tactical polygraph, okay? It implies that you’re, you know, proactive, you’re out there, you’re in the field, and you’re getting your hands dirty, you’re where it’s at. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

A so-called “tactical polygraph” is a polygraph “test” administered to a suspect promptly after arrest in an attempt to obtain admissions to crimes beyond those for which the suspect has been arrested. The suspect’s “failing” may be a pre-scripted part of the interrogation plan.

Texas DPS polygraph operator Matthew “Matt” Mull

The “Matt” to whom McCraw called out is Texas Department of Public Safety Captain Matthew Mull, a polygraph operator and advocate of this coercive interrogation technique.

You know, we don’t do our, our sex trafficking operations without, without a polygrapher on site. I’ve been even lobbied by ICE HSI on more than one occasion to increase the number of polygraphers that we have, you know in the Rio Grande valley because of how productive it has been. Of course, it’s productive. And if, at the end of the day, you know it’s not only in terms of finding evidence to support, you know, putting them where they need to be, but it’s also identifying victims, other victims in that regard. And you are in a position to be able to do that.

You know there’s, not now, when you hit the day, first day running, you’re going to be in a position to do something that other people won’t be able to do. I mean, you’ve already got that skill to interview on top of that, you’ve got this, then you have the opportunity, because they’re being funneled into your presence, and you have an opportunity to make a difference. And sometimes, you know, patience is important, I know. You know, I don’t have it. But I know you have it, because sometimes you have to listen and empathize—for hours—with someone that you’re disgusted by.

I’m always, always reminded of someone that worked for me in, in my FBI days and we had the Tohono O’odham reservation in Arizona, and there was such pervasive child molestation on the, on the “res,” that, you know, how do you get the confessions? What do you, if someone does one, they do fifteen. How do you able to gonna elicit that infor—, you know how do you, and it’s about empathizing, and she was able to do that again and again and again, and followed up with a polygraph that always, you know, produced results in a way that we’re sparing the children from having to testify, which is brutal when you do so.

So there’s so many good things that you’re going to be doing, you know, whether it’s murderers, [unclear], whatever it is, you know, that cross your career, and, you know, and you’ll also, again, you know, in another discipline, ’cause people are understand that, hey, law enforcement is data based, scientific based, we don’t, we don’t, it’s not voodoo, okay, it’s about science, it’s about things that work.

Col. McCraw’s assertion that law enforcement is “scientific based” does not hold true when it comes to its reliance on polygraphy—a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience. “Voodoo science” is not an inapt characterization of polygraphic lie detection.

McCraw concludes:

It’s about, you know, evidence-based strategies. It’s in policing it is, is in fact a profession, and a very important, critical profession. There’s nothing more important that government does is protect its people, and you’re a key part of that with what discipline that you have that fits into it. And we’ve got an obligation to use all the tools that we can, and you’re, you’re a very important tool…

Law enforcement has no obligation to use tools such as the polygraph that are known to be scientifically baseless. McCraw’s remarks help to illustrate how deeply entrenched belief in the century-old, cop-invented pseudoscience of polygraphy is in American law enforcement.

From left to right: Texas DPS Polygraph School director Captain Bobby McCloskey, Tyler, TX PD Sergeant Kevin Fite, and Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw

Video of the Texas DPS Polygraph School Class 29 graduation ceremony is available on the Texas DPS YouTube channel here:

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Throws Out Post-Polygraph Confession on Grounds of Coercion

In a 19 May 2020 ruling, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the suppression of a post-polygraph confession in the child molestation case of Wisconsin v. Adam W. Vice (2018AP2220-CR).

In 2016, Vice was accused of sexually molesting a four-year-old girl. Questioned by Washburn County Sheriff’s Department investigator William Fisher, Vice “denied any wrongdoing and asked Fisher if there was anything he could do to clear his name.”

Polygraph Operator Ryan Lambeseder
(2016 Eau Claire Leader-Telegram photo)

Fisher arranged for Vice to submit to a polygraph “test” conducted by Ryan Lambeseder of the Eau Claire Police Department. Vice “failed” the polygraph and ultimately confessed during a post-polygraph interrogation jointly conducted by Lambeseder and Fisher.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded (at para. 72 of its decision) that:

…the totality of the circumstances here evidences that the officers improperly used coercive methods and strategies to overcome Vice’s ability to resist including: (1) making numerous, repeated references to the polygraph results throughout the entire course of the post-polygraph interview; (2) repeatedly asserting that those results showed Vice—who claimed not to remember the assault—did remember it; (3) failing to correct Vice’s statement that he must have assaulted the victim because the test said he did; and (4) failing to inform Vice that the test results would be inadmissible in any criminal proceedings against him.

The court goes on to state (at para. 81): “…we caution law enforcement officers that if they plan to rely on polygraph results in order to elicit a defendant’s confession, they need to inform the defendant that those results are inadmissible in court.”

Gretchen Schuldt of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative reports on the ruling in a 26 May 2020 UrbanMilwaukee.com article titled, “Appeals Court Nixes Post-Polygraph Confession.”

See also the Wisconsin State Public Defender On Point blog post, “Defense win! COA affirms suppression of confession given after polygraph exam,” which includes a link to other filings in this case and a comment by Vice’s attorney, Frederick A. Bechtold.

And for an example of a federal case where a post-polygraph confession was suppressed, see our 2016 article, Federal Judge Throws Out FBI Post-Polygraph Confession Over Concerns About Voluntariness.

NCCA Interview & Interrogation Manual

The 1991 Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) interrogation manual, Interview & Interrogation (PDF) is among the first documents published by AntiPolygraph.org nearly 20 years ago.

Since then, DoDPI has undergone two name changes and is now called the “National Center for Credibility Assessment” (NCCA). AntiPolygraph.org has obtained and now made available the November 2013 NCCA version of Interview & Interrogation (PDF). This document is also available in Microsoft Word format.

In addition, we have obtained and published a 9-page Counterintelligence Post-Test Interview Supplement dated November 2013. This document, too, is also available in Microsoft Word format. This document provides minimization/rationalization strategies or “themes” for eliciting admissions in post-polygraph counterintelligence interrogations.

Both of these documents are marked “For Official Use Only” and include the admonition, “No part of this handbook may be reproduced or distributed in any form or stored in a database or retrieval system without the written permission of the Director of NCCA.”

These documents make it clear that polygraph “tests” are actually interrogations in disguise and will be of interest to all who may face polygraph “testing.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Chief John R. Schwartz on Interrogation

AntiPolygraph.org has received a copy of a presentation (1.4 mb PDF) on interrogation given by John R. Schwartz, who now heads the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs Credibility Assessment Division. In that capacity, Schwartz heads one of the federal government’s largest polygraph units, with some 71 polygraph examiners and a fiscal year 2012 budget of $11.4 million. Schwartz has previously worked as an instructor at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (since renamed the National Center for Credibility Assessment) and in 1995 served as its acting director. As such, his views on interrogation are presumably influential.

Schwartz gave the presentation, titled, “Interrogation Tips for Nerds Like Me” at an October 2007 seminar held by the California Association of Polygraph Examiners in Coronado. Among other things, the presentation brings home the point that polygraph “testing” is really all about interrogation. For example, slide 6 covers “internal pressure” in the polygraph examinee that can be exploited by the polygraph operator :

schwartz-interrogation-2007-p06The “cookie jar” story is a simplistic tale that polygraphers like to tell during the pre-test phase. Retired FBI polygrapher Jack Trimarco explained it this way in a 2007 radio interview:

Moms are the best polygraph examiners in the world because they know Little Johnny 24-hours-a-day, and when Mom tells Johnny, “Don’t take a cookie before dinner” and she walks into the kitchen and the cookie jar has the top off of it and there’s crumbs on the counter and crumbs, in fact, on little Johnny’s mouth, and she says, “Johnny, did you take a cookie?” and he goes into the fetal position and looks down and lowers his voice and says, “No, Mommy,” well Mommy knows immediately that Johnny did take the cookie.

The polygrapher attempts to convince the examinee that the polygraph results are like the cookie crumbs on Little Johnny’s mouth.

Slides 10 and 11 document a dangerous mindset prevalent among American interrogators: that their job is to extract confessions (as opposed to determining the truth). Federal polygraph operators are typically evaluated based on their post-test confession rates. Schwartz dismisses the possibility that the polygraph could be wrong and enumerates methods for overcoming objections. Yet a statistical analysis (255 kb PDF) by Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff of the best polygraph field studies suggests that “if a subject fails a polygraph, the probability that she is, in fact, being deceptive is little more than chance alone; that is, one could flip a coin and get virtually the same result for a positive test based on the published data.”

schwartz-interrogation-2007-p10schwartz-interrogation-2007-p11There is an inside joke among polygraphers that they are salesmen with a difficult job: selling jail time. In slide 13, urging the polygrapher to keep the interrogation going as long as possible, Schwartz describes the job a different way: “manure salesman”:

schwartz-interrogation-2007-p13In slide 14, Schwartz specifically mentions AntiPolygraph.org, suggesting that the polygrapher should “do the unexpected” if he or she believes that the examinee has read this site (or if the polygrapher has “the feeling” that the examinee “won’t confess”). It’s not clear what “unexpected” things Schwartz advocates polygraphers doing:

schwartz-interrogation-2007-p14In slides 20 and 21, Schwartz suggests a variety of polygraph techniques “if nothing else works,” including one of his own creation: “Schwartz’s Helpful Interrogation Test,” evidently an adaptation of the peak of tension test. This technique is not included in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection polygraph handbook (1.9 mb PDF), and it’s not clear if CBP polygraphers use it. Nonetheless, it is cause for concern that a federal polygrapher devised and advocated a “home brewed” polygraph technique:

schwartz-interrogation-2007-p20schwartz-interrogation-2007-p21It is absurd to ask a polygraph examinee why an invalid procedure (polygraphy) may have produced an inaccurate result. It’s like asking why a coin toss came out heads instead of tails. Schwartz’s home brewed “Helpful Interrogation Test” has one thing in common with the Backster Zone Comparison Test, the Reid Modified General Question Test, and the Keeler Relevant/Irrelevant Test: it is the brainchild of an interrogator, not a scientist. Beware of manure salesmen.

Byron Halsey Freed 22 Years After False Positive Polygraph Results, False Confession

In “Freed After 22 Years,” Jonathan Casiano and Mark Mueller of the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger report on the case of Byron Halsey, from whom it now appears police extracted a false confession to the molestation and brutal murder of two children after he wrongly failed a polygraph examination. DNA evidence exculpates Halsey and has pointed to the identity of the true perpetrator. Excerpt:

The police chief said it was the most horrific act of violence he’d ever seen. The prosecutor called it “inhuman,” suggesting the death penalty wasn’t punishment enough for the “coward” who committed the crime.

It was November 1985, and two Plainfield siblings, ages 7 and 8, had been sexually assaulted, murdered and mutilated. Amid a high-profile investigation, authorities quickly focused on Byron Halsey, the boyfriend of the children’s mother.

A 24-year-old factory worker with a minor criminal record, Halsey failed a polygraph test. He confessed. He was tried and convicted, and when a jury spared him from the death penalty, some in the courtroom jeered. He would spend 21 1/2 years behind bars, virtually all of it in solitary confinement for his own protection.

Yesterday, in a stunning reversal, a Superior Court judge threw out Halsey’s convictions and ordered a new trial after advanced DNA testing — unavailable at the time of the prosecution — showed that the killings might have been carried out by a Plainfield neighbor.

Halsey, who later retracted his confession, was released on $55,000 bail yesterday afternoon. Outside the courthouse in Elizabeth, where a media throng and a crowd of well-wishers waited for him, Halsey tightly hugged his mother and brother and repeatedly thanked God for his release.

“There’s more nice people around me now than there have been around here in a long time,” he said.

Halsey now awaits a decision by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office on whether it will proceed with a retrial or drop the case, officially exonerating the man once derided by a prosecutor as a “calculating, evil genius.”

A spokeswoman for that office said there would be no immediate comment on a decision. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 9. In the meantime, Halsey is required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

“It has taken more than two decades, but DNA has finally revealed the truth in this case,” said Vanessa Potkin, a lawyer with the Innocence Project, a group that works on behalf of inmates whom it considers wrongfully convicted.

If he is ultimately cleared, Halsey will be the fifth New Jerseyan and 202nd person across the coun try to be exonerated through the use of DNA evidence, according to the group, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York.

Byron Halsey’s experience is reminiscent of that of Jeffrey Mark Deskovic, who wrongly spent 16 years in prison following a polygraph-induced false confession to murder. DNA evidence ultimately exculpated Deskovic.

Polygraph Abuse Alleged in Oregon Murder Investigation

Nick Budnick reports for Willamette Week in an article titled, “True Lies? Polygraph Expert Questions Francke Investigation Tactics.” Excerpt:

In three decades of giving so-called “lie detector” tests, you’d think Ken Simmons would have seen everything; but after reviewing a string of reports in the controversial Michael Francke murder case, he’s stunned.

“I’ve done polygraphs for 29 years, and I haven’t seen anything like this,” says Simmons, a longtime Oregon State Police polygrapher who is considered by law-enforcement officials and defense lawyers to be among the best in his field. “This is unbelievable…. This is really bizarre.”

In January 1989, someone killed Francke, the head of Oregon’s prison system. Prosecutors pushed a theory that it was a random car burglary and convicted a small-time drug dealer, Frank Gable.

Gable, however, maintains his innocence and, through an intermediary, has recently released records of the murder investigation to reporters (“The Murder That Would Not Die,” WW, Nov. 23, 2004). The documents raise several questions about the investigation, particularly the probe’s heavy reliance on polygraphs.

“Some of the techniques that are used here are simply unacceptable,” says Simmons, now in private practice, who reviewed a dozen polygraph reports in the case records at WW’s request. “These just aren’t things we would do [today]. I’m surprised they would be done then.”

Polygraphs are not really “lie detectors,” which is one reason most courts won’t allow them as evidence. The machines measure changes in pulse, perspiration and blood pressure but can be misled, particularly by addicts whose brains have been fried by methamphetamine or crack cocaine. There are also plenty of examples of people who flunked even when telling the truth.

“I do polygraphs for a living, and I have a lot of faith in them,” says Simmons. “But when they’re done badly, I have no faith in them.” He places most of the Francke-probe polygraphs he reviewed in the latter category, saying that although he has no reason to think Gable is innocent, “I am very confident that I would not want to base any prosecution on these polygraph results.”

In the Francke case, state polygraphers tested about 100 people and eliminated dozens of potential suspects based on their results. Later, in September 1989, when the case was at a standstill, detectives used Gable’s failure of two polygraphs to make him a prime suspect.

According to reports by Gable’s investigators, at least five people polygraphed by police as potential witnesses said later that police used the devices to shape their statements.

John Kevin Walker, a top prosecution witness, told a defense investigator after the trial that cops cited his initial polygraph to claim he was lying and implied he would be charged as an accomplice if he didn’t tell him what they wanted to hear. “I told the truth. They came back, said, ‘No, you’re not tellin’ the truth,” Walker told the investigator.

A friend of another key witness, Mark Gesner, told investigators Gesner described the exact same experience.

Yet another key witness, Jodie Swearingen, also told a defense investigator that police subjected her to repeated polygraphs until she told them what they wanted to hear. Simmons and other polygraphers told WW that a witness would normally be given three tests at most–after that, the machine becomes easier to beat. But after reviewing the reports on Swearingen, Simmons said she was tested 22 times in less than five months. This was particularly surprising to Simmons since he administered one of Swearingen’s exams–causing him to conclude that the teenage meth addict was a poor subject for any polygraph test.

The alleged use of polygraph “test” results to coerce witnesses into providing perjured testimony is deadly serious. When police wrongly believe that the lie detector is a highly accurate scientific means of detecting deception, when in fact polygraphy has no scientific basis at all, they can easily end up committing the kinds of abuses alleged here, even without necessarily acting in bad faith. For discussion of the issues raised by this article, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board discussion thread, Polygraph Abuse Alleged in Oregon Murder Case.

Coercion Alleged in Riverside County, CA Polygraph Interrogation

North County Times staff writer Tim Mayer reports in an article titled, “Fogelstrom said investigators deceived them” that the Riverside County (California) Sheriff’s Department conducted a coercive polygraph examination of a minor under false pretenses. Excerpt:

CARLSBAD —- The father of the teenage companion of 17-year-old Eric Sears —- who was found dead in Joshua Tree National Park last month —- said Thursday that investigators have presented a concoction of events and statements involving his son that are either false or taken out of context.

“They coerced, badgered and intimidated Ben until he didn’t know what he was saying,” said Joe Fogelstrom, the father of Ben Fogelstrom, 17.

“I feel like a sucker. Our kid trusted us, and we put him in the hands of these (investigator) guys.”

Fogelstrom said an affidavit released Monday by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department was based in part on a polygraph exam of his young son that was obtained under false pretenses. The affidavit was used to obtain a warrant to search their Carlsbad home.

Fogelstrom said the polygraph exam was done without parents or an attorney present.

No charges have been filed against Ben and law enforcement officers have said he is not a suspect, but investigators said in the affidavit that they were looking into the possibility that Eric had been murdered.

Fogelstrom said he, his wife, Valerie, and Ben drove to San Bernardino on July 18 at the request of investigators who told them they had found items in the desert that they needed Ben to identify.

But when the family arrived, investigators suggested that a polygraph test of Ben might help him remember more of the incident, the father said.

During the exam, Fogelstrom said he was told, Ben would “create the questions to ask so maybe it would jolt Ben’s memory about which direction Eric went.”

“The polygraph (idea) seemed weird, but I said anything we can do to help as long as Ben has a say in it and his mom’s there,” Fogelstrom said. “Well, Ben didn’t have a say in it and his mom wasn’t there.”

As it turned out, Fogelstrom said that after he left, Ben was taken into another room, where he was questioned for about four hours, and his mother was left in the locked reception area unable to go to her son. Fogelstrom said he left to drive a pair of neighborhood kids back to Carlsbad.

Fogelstrom said his wife reported that by the time she was allowed to see Ben again, “he was crying, he was upset, he was traumatized.”

“He told Valerie, ‘They made me say stuff, Mom. They made me say stuff that wasn’t true.'”

“We believed them and we trusted them,” Fogelstrom said. “They used that trust to get Ben in a back room to interrogate him, to just hammer him.”

“Polygraphs Don’t Give True Story”

Noah Schachtman reports for Wired News. Excerpt:

The military may have ways — gruesome ways — of making people talk, as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has shown. But it still doesn’t have a reliable method for figuring out whether those people are telling the truth or not.

Nearly 75 years since the introduction of the polygraph, there’s still nothing close to a foolproof lie detector. Traditional methods for catching a fibber have been battered by scientific study. And, despite endless waves of hype, the high-tech alternatives — brain scans, thermal images and voice analysis — have withered under scrutiny, or remain largely unproven.

“Everybody would love to have a lie detector that works. But wanting it isn’t going to make it happen,” said Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard University professor of psychology.

“You can flip a coin, and get the same results,” said Mike Ritz, a former Army interrogator who now trains people to withstand questioning.

In a 2002 report, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that traditional polygraph screening was so flawed that it “presents a danger to national security.” The group found that too many innocent people who took polygraphs were labeled guilty, and too many guilty people slid by undetected.

Federal and local governments have carried on with polygraphs anyway. U.S. military investigators, armed with the devices, have been deployed to Iraq, to question candidates for detention. The Energy and Defense departments give out thousands of the tests every year to filter out potential security threats. And the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s up to the states to decide whether evidence from lie detectors is admissible in court.

Polygraphers contend that — especially when they start out with a piece of damning evidence — they can catch liars at rates of 90 percent or better. The problem is that polygraphs check only for physical responses that indicate deceit: heavy breathing, high pulse rate, sweat. But panting or sweating don’t necessarily mean that a person is guilty of anything. All these responses indicate is that someone is anxious, said University of Arizona psychology professor John JB Allen. And innocent people get jumpy, too — especially when there’s a bull-necked interrogator in the room.

Illinois Man, Innocent of Armed Robbery, Failed Lie Detector

Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Christy Gutowski reports on the case of Kevin Liszka in an article titled, “‘The perfect mark.'” Excerpt:

As Kevin Liszka sat in a police department holding cell for three days, he remained confident authorities would realize they had the wrong man.

Instead, police hauled Liszka off to the DuPage County jail on the fourth day after a trail of evidence, including witness identification, led back to him.

“I just started crying,” the Bolingbrook man said. “I said, ‘You’re all wrong. You guys are making a big mistake.'”

Police said Liszka was one of three assailants who burglarized a city official’s residence in Warrenville in a violent home invasion that involved rape. The crime shook the close-knit community to its core.

From the onset, the 20-year-old man proclaimed his innocence. Forty-two days later, prosecutors confirmed he had been telling the truth. They cleared Liszka after charging the final of three suspects.

The case is just one example of the fallibility of the criminal justice system — a system in which innocent people are sometimes caught in the middle. It also is the reason eyewitness testimony, long a trusted fixture in the courtroom, has come under increasing attack.

Liszka, though, had a lot more than mistaken identity working against him. A pizza delivery, police sketch, failed lie-detector test and a shaky reputation with police also played a role.

Liszka said he understands why innocent people confess. The interrogations, at times, grew heated. At one point, authorities warned they were giving him one last chance to come clean.

“They told me if there’s no deal now, there will never be one,” he said. “At that point, considering I was facing 40 years in prison, I was almost thinking about admitting to something I didn’t do.”

FBI Policy of Not Recording Polygraph Interrogations an Issue in Colorado Murder Case

Denver Post reporter Nancy Lofholm reports in an article titled, “Blagg interrogation at issue.” Excerpt:

GRAND JUNCTION – On the morning of Feb. 5, 2002, Michael Blagg failed a two-hour polygraph exam conducted by an FBI expert. Later that day, after more than 10 total hours of interrogation, Blagg allegedly broke down, sobbed, prayed and came close to confessing that he killed his wife and daughter, according to investigators.

Jurors will not be told the results of the polygraph exam because it is not admissible in court. And if defense attorneys have their way, jurors also won’t hear about Blagg’s alleged near-confession about four months after he reported his wife and daughter missing.

Blagg, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Jennifer Blagg, whose body was found in the Mesa County landfill near Grand Junction in June. She had been shot in the head at close range while she slept at the couple’s home. Their 6-year-old daughter, Abby, is still missing and presumed dead.

In a day of testimony on a defense motion to suppress information, Blagg’s attorney, Mesa County Public Defender David Eisner, attempted to show that Blagg’s Feb. 5 statements were coerced and may not have been reported accurately because they were not recorded.

FBI agent Bill Irwin was called in to test Blagg after officers with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department administered a polygraph to Blagg on Nov. 13, 2001, the day he reported his wife and daughter missing. One officer concluded from the first exam that Blagg was being deceptive. A second officer who reviewed the exam results said they were inconclusive.

Irwin said he didn’t doubt the results of his test.

“I confronted him (Blagg) when he failed the polygraph,” Irwin said on the stand Monday. “I told him ‘It’s clearly obvious you know where Jennifer and Abby are. and you can take me to them.”‘

Irwin said that because of the results of the polygraph, he spent the next two hours interrogating Blagg. Investigators with the Sheriff’s Department took over and questioned Blagg for another four hours.

One of Eisner’s key contentions is that the polygraph and subsequent interrogation were not recorded and thus might not be accurate. Another FBI agent and two sheriff’s investigators took notes during the polygraph and questioning from a video feed.

The questioning was not taped because the FBI has a policy of not allowing video or audio taping of polygraphs unless FBI administrators grant special permission. Irwin said he has never recorded any of the more than 700 polygraph exams he has administered in nearly 17 years with the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman in Denver said she doesn’t have an explanation for the no-recording policy. “We’ve just never done it,” spokeswoman Ann Atanasio said. “That’s always been our policy.”

The FBI’s deliberate policy of not recording polygraph interrogations gives FBI polygraphers carte blanche to use coercive (and even illegal) interrogation tactics secure in the knowledge that any misconduct on the polygrapher’s part can never be proven in court. For more on FBI Special Agent Bill Irwin, see the public statement of Captain Christopher J. Stein, whom SA Irwin accused of being a spy.

For more on the harm that the FBI’s policy of not recording polygraph examinations has caused, see U.S. Attorney James B. Comey’s Report to Judge Jed S. Rakoff on the Polygraph Interrogation of Abdallah Higazy and the discussion thread, Polygraph helps coerce false confession.