Police Polygraph: A Ticket to Freedom or Incarceration?

An issue that has been making national news during COVID-19 is the value of the polygraph.  A polygraph exam is known as a “lie detector test.” It is a tool utilized by prosecutors and police officers to find out the truth.  While many view the polygraph exam as a ticket to their freedom, many pitfalls come with the test. To learn more about the polygraph exam, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in Michigan to gain their insight on the issue.

Matthew McManus and is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Washtenaw County, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top criminal motion writers and business attorneys in Michigan. When asked about the polygraph, McManus stated, “There are many risks associated with the test. For example, we had a client who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. His mental deficiencies did not allow him to comprehend the questions on the test.  It is well established that a defendant’s competency is also at risk, along with their credibility when they take the test.  This causes concern with young people and that with disabilities.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo. She is known as one of the top divorce lawyers in our state. Kelley stated, “We use polygraphs in civil litigation, and it carries a lot more weight.  When we started using the polygraph in our divorce filings, there was a lot of confusion to opposing counsel, but I value the polygraph. Of course, there is a major difference between criminal and civil litigation. This is not a one size fits all scenario.”

Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon in Lenawee County, Michigan, and is known as an elite litigator. When asked about the polygraph, Eaton-Gordon was quoted as saying, “There is an understanding that when one’s freedom is on the line, the polygraph can be a great tool.  However, it would help if you had a guarantee from the prosecutor’s office that they will dismiss with a passed polygraph. Every county is very different in the weight that they place into the polygraph. What works in Lenawee County is not the same formula that you will use in Ingham County. If the lawyer does not know their audience, they can walk their client into a tragic situation.”

William Amadeo is a partner for McManus and Amadeo and is known as the top criminal defense lawyer in Washtenaw County and has built a stellar reputation across Michigan.  When asked about the polygraph, Amadeo provided commentary in stating, “In Washtenaw County, I have had defendants pass police polygraphs, and the prosecutor would still not dismiss the case.  In Shiawassee County, I’ve seen serious charges dismissed with a passed polygraph. A lot of the test’s value depends on the quality of the prosecutor in charge of the office.  If you have someone fair and objective, the polygraph has value.  If you have someone who doesn’t care about the truth, I don’t see the point in subjecting a client to a 4-hour police interview without having counsel present.  I would never have a client take a police test without calling Andy Longuski to do a private test first. Longuski ran the Michigan State Police Polygraph Unit for many years. He’s an amazing legal mind that has helped with many of our cases. You truly need to gauge how your client will react before submitting them to a police test in any county.”

While the polygraph remains a topic inadmissible in the criminal trial, the test has value in plea negotiations, sentencing hearings, and civil issues. While there is much to learn on the polygraph, there are pitfalls that the attorney should study before agreeing to the test.

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