Do These Things Really Work? Scott Lewis Puts a Polygraph to the Test
By Scott Lewis/ Follow Scott on Twitter @scottlewispi
DETROIT (WWJ) – The polygraph examiner was soft spoken, matter-of fact, and to the point.
He told me to keep my feet on the floor and look straight ahead. He hooked probes up to three fingers on my left hand and strapped sensing devices around my chest and abdomen.
He told me that all I had to do was tell the truth and I would pass the test.
As he started asking questions, I noticed my hands were sweating.
“What in the hell am I sweating about”, I asked myself, “it’s not like I’m here on an armed robbery”.
This was only a dry run, and the lie I was about to tell was totally inconsequential. I knew it, and so did the polygraph examiner. Yet the examiner was confident the test would reveal my deception.
Before I tell you how it turned out, and what I learned from the experience, let me explain how I wound up in this chair with all these gizmos hooked up to me.
I get a lot of calls at Scott Lewis Private Investigations from people who need help. I can help most of them, some of them I can’t. And when people call looking for a service I don’t offer, I try to refer them to a reliable person who can help.
One of those calls came from a woman asking if my company does polygraphs. We don’t. So I called a trusted police source and asked him if he knew of a competent polygraph examiner. He referred me to Neil Myres, a retired Dearborn Police Lieutenant.
Myres now owns and operates a private company called Forensic Polygraph Services. He is also president of the Michigan Association of Polygraph Examiners.
I emailed Myres to let him know about the referral and he surprised me with an offer; “come on in to the office,” he said, “I’ll show you around and give you a polygraph so you can see how it works.”
I took him up on the offer. It was a fascinating and eye-opening experience.
Before I took the test, Myres asked me what I knew about polygraphs.
I told him I knew three things:
• They are a great investigative tool
• They are not admissible in court
• If you lie about something of no consequence, the test will not detect it
I was wrong on two out of three. The only thing I was right about is that the polygraph is a great investigative tool.
“It is a phenomenal investigative tool in law enforcement if it is done correctly and if you have the best equipment that’s out there and you use a validated format where the research is behind it, it’s going to be very robust.”
One of my misconceptions about the polygraph was shattered when Myres hooked me up to the instrument and asked me some questions.
First he told me to pick a number between 1 and 7. I circled the number 5 and showed it to him. Then he told me he was going ask me whether I picked each of the numbers and that I should answer no to all of them. Obviously I would be lying about number 5.
Myres said a polygraph examiner always tells the person what questions he is going to ask before the test begins.
“Lying is deliberate. That’s why there are no surprise questions in a polygraph. I want you to know what you’re going to be either A, telling the truth to, or B, lying to,” Myres said.
Myres went down the list of numbers, 1 through 7, one at a time, and asked me if that was the number I picked. I answered no to all 7. Of course, number 5 was a lie.
When he showed me the results, I was surprised. The lines on the graph started going up when he got to number 4 because I knew that the lie was coming. The graph peaked when I answered no to number 5, then dropped back down for 6 and 7.
“Did I flunk?” I asked Myres.
“I wouldn’t say you flunked,” he said “but you showed deception on number 5.”
So how did the test pick up my inconsequential lie? How could that be?
Myres told me the instrument monitors physiological changes in a part of our central nervous system that we cannot control. It has nothing to do with whether you’re anxious about the test.
“Polygraph is a blending of what you know with what you can’t control. And it truly is not a function of ‘I’m nervous, it is truly not a function of ‘boy I wonder if this guy knows what he’s doing’,” said Myres.
According to Myres, polygraph instruments are much more sophisticated today and if the tests are done with the proper protocol and a competent examiner they are 80 to 90 percent accurate.
“It’s not an eight ball, it’s not a Ouija board, black magic, or voodoo science. It’s something much more than that. And quite frankly the biggest proponent of polygraph is our government,” said Myres.
Myres said the federal government conducts 70 thousand polygraphs a year on their agents and employees.
The other misconception I had about polygraphs is that they are not admissible in court.
Myres said in the Federal Courts, the decision is left up to the judge, and many state courts are now allowing polygraph evidence to be introduced.
“What has happened is that more and more state courts are allowing polygraph to come in but it’s being treated no differently than expert testimony where the judge and the jury, they can decide what amount of weight they want to attach to that testimony. And the opposing side has the right to try to impeach the expert,” Myres said.
Another fact many people are not aware of is that in Michigan, anyone accused of a sex crime has the right to demand a polygraph exam.
“That individual who’s being accused can stand before a judge and say, ‘I didn’t do this, I have standing, I have that legal right to demand that I take a polygraph to clear myself’,” Myres said.
Conversely, under Michigan’s rape shield law, police can never ask a rape victim to take a polygraph.
Now that Myres is working in the private sector, many of his clients are defense attorneys who didn’t exactly like him when he was working for the prosecution. Now, they ask Myers to test their clients before subjecting them to a police polygraph.
“My pitch now is, I can replicate what that police exam would be like, and you make that decision as to whether or not subject them (to a police polygraph). That’s on you,” said Myres.
Myres told me that polygraphs stir up a lot of emotion with people and there are a lot of active and vocal critics. He explained that the sovereignty of one person being able to deceive another goes back to the first days of man and that what sparks the criticism.
“One of the reasons, in my opinion, that exists is because deception is one of the last bastions of sovereignty that we as human beings have. And when that is purported to be taken away by of a process, people don’t like that,” Myres said.