Essay Preview: Polygraph
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The polygraph test is one of the most controversial criminal investigative techniques of all-time. From the initial years of the invention to today, there is not a consensus about the investigative tool. That is why there are many people for and against the administration of polygraph tests. Therefore, in order to develop a clear picture of the polygraph test the history of the test must be established. Although, there are many sources that have well documented concerns about the invention, the polygraph test is still around after almost 80 years.
William M. Marston invented the first lie detector around 1917. He claimed to be able to detect verbal deception by using a machine to measure an increase in systolic blood pressure. (Britannica) His invention was a landmark event, but the honeymoon did not last long. Six years after the invention, Marston took a big hit on his newly developed machine. His procedure was negatively evaluated in 1923 in a landmark court case known as Frye V. United States. (Frye v. US) In the case Thomas T. Frye told the court about a positive evaluation on the polygraph test that was administered to him. He asked them if the polygraph examiner would be able to take the stand in order testify to the events that took place during the polygraph exam. The court said no to the request of the polygraph examiner testifying to the results of the examination. This case would become a landmark event in the area of criminal investigation. The case established what is now called the “Frye Test.” This test applies to the testimony of expert witnesses and it requires that the testimony must, “sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”(Frye Test) This test that was established by the court was not the last but it did set the stage for the continuing saga of the polygraph.
After the primary stages of the invention of the polygraph test there have been many people that have followed which have tried to improve on the existing model. For instance, the next try was by a police officer named John Larson. (AttorneyGeneral.Gov) He improved the invention by applying it to interrogations in which he would monitor the pulse, heart rate and the breathing of the suspect. The problem arose when the measurements that he took could be greatly affected by other variables that were not accounted for like fear, anger and frustration. Although this method did enhance on the old model it still showed little evidence that it would be the staple for criminal investigations.
However, Leonard Keeler established the model for criminal investigation with polygraphs in the 1930s. (CourtTV.com) His techniques were devolved with the help of John Reid and Fred Inbau. Together they established steps and techniques that are not only accepted extensively now in the United States but what are considered the gold standard in interrogations. (Crime Library)
The initial step in the interrogation using the polygraph test is to acquire as much information about the suspect before the interrogation begins. The information that might be acquired by the examiner is background, medical history, criminal history, and any physiological history that the suspect might have. After this initial step the examiner will carefully examine the information of the suspect and decide whether or not they are fit to take the test and tell the suspect how the test is going to be administered. As this step fully explains a person being administered the test has to be fit to take the test, but in the case of Roger Keith Coleman he obviously was not given the same opportunity. The case is concerning Mr. Coleman in which he was arrested and convicted for the rape and murder of a Virginia woman in 1982. (Truth in Justice) The case from the start was a farce, it seemed everyone in the state believed that he had inadequate defense counsel, beside the judge. However, because of the guilty verdict Mr. Coleman was schedule to be executed. The problem arose because of how the polygraph was administered by the interrogators. They gave Mr. Coleman the polygraph the morning he was scheduled to be executed. In addition he had no counsel present and the information from the polygraph examination was never released. This is morally unacceptable, it is hard enough to be given a polygraph test, but the morning a person is scheduled to die is absurd. Therefore, it is essential that the interrogator must analyze the state of mind of the suspect before given the polygraph test.
After the primary test to check the attitude and state of mind of the suspect the polygraph examination moves to the actual test. The principal purpose of the machine is to measure the different variations of each the individuals answers the questions. So in order to establish this for each of the suspects Keeler developed several different techniques to measure their emotional responses to the questions. One of the approaches that he administered was the “Slim Test.” (CourtTV.com) The test involves the polygraph examiner making the suspect pick one card out a deck of cards and put the same card back in the pile without letting the examiner see it. After the suspect put the card back in the deck the examiner would show the suspect each card one by one. The examiner them would advise the suspect to say no to every card that was shown to him. This examiner would then would analyze the emotional response to each answer given by the suspect. With the information that was collected the examiner would show the suspect the card that he originally chose and the results that point out that he knew when he was lying. However, what the suspect does not no is that the examiner knew from the beginning what card he chose, and the real test was to establish doubt in the mind of the suspect.
After this method is completed the actual questioning begins. The process of questioning which Keeler is in favor of is the process called irrelevant or relevant questioning. This process does not attack the suspect by continually questioning the veracity of the suspect, but it changes speeds by asking both relevant and irrelevant question to the suspect. (Crime Library) This process by Keeler helps maintain the subjects state of mind from becoming angered and frustrated. As mentioned before, a polygraph test can be very emotionally draining for some, so in order to get the most conclusive result as possible it is important to keep the suspect as comfortable as possible. This does not suggest to let the suspect off the hook, but realize that a positive result on the polygraph test is what is needed, not inconclusive.
Although Kellers, Inbaus and Reids process of interrogation of using the polygraph is widely used and accepted there are many detractors to it implication.