About polygraphs

As I listened to Christine Blasey Ford and repeated mentions of the polygraph she had willingly taken, I recalled my own experiences with the efficacy and use of polygraphs. And I began thinking I’d written about this previously.

I have:

I’ve had some experience with polygraphs, thanks to two things: a psych course experiment in college, during which I was the designated liar; and, given my time working for lawyers, how and why a lawyer might ask a client to take a polygraph.

Never mind the first thing. Well, except to say the set-up was greatly intelligent and it proved I have sweaty guilt about lying. That is, I won’t guarantee that you can trust me but I can guarantee that I can.

So let’s go to the polygraph.

A young woman called our law office, asking for help. She’d been raped by a couple of cops during an incident which — if I remember — involved an arrest either for drugs or prostitution. The arrest itself may have been false.

We were all immediately sympathetic because things like that happen a lot to vulnerable people, as any civil rights lawyer knows.

I don’t recall which lawyer interviewed the young woman, who was accompanied by her mother, and I don’t remember where the interview occurred. She did not live in the New York metropolitan area.

But I do remember that she was asked if she’d take a polygraph test.

Most judges won’t accept polygraphs as valid, i.e., scientifically supported, evidence. But they can still be useful when, as in this case, the guy I worked for explained to me that while everyone wanted to sympathize with the young woman, there were parts of her story which sounded iffy. A good polygraphist could confirm whether her story was credible, or not.

It’s a real problem for lawyers. Potential clients are, almost by definition, in a crisis state — which is why they need a lawyer — but crisis states that make a potential client openly distraught are difficult to interpret.

Lawyers are not psychotherapists. They need a straightforward story to know whether they can accept a case. And emotional clients are not good at delivering straightforward stories. As a lawyer listens to a potential client, she will be thinking, how can I present this person to a jury? If I don’t believe her, how could they?

So a polygraph can at the least confirm that, no matter how scattershot the story sounds, it is in essence true.

The young woman agreed to take a polygraph. An excellent polygrapher was retained, an appointment made. She took the polygraph.

She failed.

I don’t know how it was explained to her that her case could not be pursued by our law firm. But it wasn’t pursued by our law firm.

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