When you are suspected of a crime you didn’t commit, and arrested for it, when you are questioned for hours by police who seem to be convinced you’re the “bad guy”, a polygraph or lie-detector test can seem pretty appealing as a way to clear your name and “prove” your innocence. Many suspects have consented to such tests because they believe the test will help them get out of a touchy situation, but according to the Chicago Tribune, several within the custody of the Chicago Police Department found a polygraph to have the opposite effect.
According to an in-depth story from the newspaper, Chicago police aren’t exactly following protocol when it comes to using polygraph tests.
One man, Donny McGee, was accused of murdering his elderly neighbor. He adamantly denied it and wanted to take a polygraph to prove his innocence. He was taken to a room with the polygraph with a department examiner, but never given the test. Instead, the examiner, Robert Bartik, testified that McGee began confessing before he could even say a word.
Interestingly, Bartik says he has a knack for getting confessions, boasting 100 confessions in just 5 years of pre-polygraph interviews. Some experts say this figure is “extraordinary”. For his part, Bartik says he is free of wrongdoing.
While we might not know what Bartik has been doing to get those confessions, the Tribune reports that some CPD examiners admit to skirting regulations.
Chicago polygraph results aren’t reviewed by a second examiner or supervisor, a step that’s crucial in ensuring their reliability. Also, there are no continuing education requirements in place, the department only records a few of the tests it does, and only recently began using numerical scoring for the tests, even though it has been “strongly” recommended by industry professionals for years.
“By not following the standards, you place yourself at risk for errors, which can lead to an increased risk for a false confession,” said Mark Handler with the American Association of Police Polygraphists. “It’s a very precipitous slope and a dangerous game to play because the ultimate harm is convicting an innocent person of a crime they didn’t commit.”
The use of polygraphs has long been controversial. While not considered reliable evidence in a court of law, it is used as an investigation tool more than anything, giving police information that may help them in a case. Still, if they are being used to extract false confessions, their use should halt altogether.
The police won’t polygraph you for a minor misdemeanor charge—it simply isn’t worth their time. However, questionable interrogation practices are sometimes used in everything from misdemeanor possession charges to charges of a violent nature. When up against potential abuse like this, you have rights and should have an attorney on your side.