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ADC - Polygraph tests
Published November 17, 2006
AREA DEFENSE COUNSEL
BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La
FACT SHEET ON POLYGRAPH TESTS
1. You are facing an Article 15, administrative discharge or a court-martial and want to clear yourself of any wrong doing. You think you might like to request a polygraph test, but are worried that it might worsen the situation. This fact sheet is designed to give you basic information on how to go about requesting a polygraph and how it can affect you in your case.
2. AFOSI Polygraphs. All requests for polygraph in the Air Force are made through the Staff Judge Advocate to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) under AFI 77-101, Vol. A polygraph examination may be authorized when the person under investigation voluntarily seeks it as a means of exculpation that is to clear themselves with respect to a criminal, fraud, or security case. The Area Defense Counsel will assist you in filling out the request which will include a summary of pertinent facts, the reason the examination is essential, and a statement that there is no medical condition that would preclude a polygraph examination. The OSI will consider whether or not you have been tried by a court or have accepted punishment under Article 15 for the offense concerned. Requests will be forwarded to the approving authority, usually the regional office, and are normally acted on within two weeks.
3. Use of Test Results as Evidence. The reliability of the polygraph test has not been established to the extent that it can be used as evidence in a court-martial proceeding against you. In other words, if the test results indicate that you are deceptive on the question at hand, the polygraph examiner cannot take the stand to say that you lied and are guilty. So in that sense, you have nothing to lose by taking a polygraph test. Be aware, however, that any statements made by you after an advisement of rights and during or after the test have been administered, are admissible in court and could potentially be used against you. Be advised also, that since punishment under Article 15, UCMJ is nonjudicial, the results of the polygraph examination can be considered by your commander in determining your guilt or innocence in an Article 15 proceeding. So it is best for you to weigh the consequences of taking a military polygraph examination very carefully before deciding to do so.
4. Civilian Polygraphs. Some people have indicated that they are reluctant to have an AFOSI examiner conduct the test because they feel he might not give them a fair shake. If you feel this way, you may want to obtain a civilian polygraph from another examiner. The normal cost is between $150.00 and $300.00. The benefit of taking a civilian polygraph is that if it should indicate deception, you do not have to bring it forward to the AFOSI investigators. Some people think of a civilian polygraph as a trial run for the military polygraph. Another alternative is to have the civilian polygraph examination tapes reviewed by AFOSI examiners to determine their validity. This can be done by requesting an AFOSI review under AFI 77-101, Vol 1.
5. Nervousness. Many people are concerned that their nervousness will skew the results of the polygraph examination. This should not be a concern, because the test measures changes in respiration, heart beat, muscle tension, etc., at the moment the question is asked, rather than simple nervousness during the questioning. However, if you have a medical condition involving the heart or lungs or a nervous condition the results might be invalid. In that case, you will want to consider alternate means of exonerating yourself.
6. The Pre-Test. The test normally lasts about three hours and includes three separate phases: the pre-test, the test itself and the post-test. It will be administered by a trained AFOSI Special Agent. There will be no two way mirrors or hidden microphones without prior knowledge by you. If you are a female, and the examiner is male, the security police will provide a female escort while the machine is being hooked up. During the pre-test you will be read your rights. The AFOSI examiner will be explain who he is, what he is doing, and how the polygraph machine works. This will conclude a demonstration in which you will be asked to make an outright lie, such as 2 + 2 = 5, so that this may be registered on the equipment. Also, during the pre-test, you will be told the specific questions that will be asked during the test and allowed to discuss them with the examiner. Each of the words in the question will be defined. Be aware that any incriminating statements you make during the pre-test interview after a right's advisement can be used as evidence against you. But if you feel that the question being asked is unclear or misleading, you should clarify the question during the pre-test.
7. The Test Itself. The test itself will consist of several "bullet" questions that can be answered with a yes/no response. For example, "did you strike that man at the bar?" or "did you steal the money from the bank?" You will be seated in a chair facing away from the polygraph examiner and will have several hook-ups to the machine. As the questions are asked, your response will be recorded on the moving tape by a series of five indicators. After the test is concluded, the polygraph examiner will interpret the tapes and render a decision on whether or not deception was indicated.
8. The Post-Test. Very often, people undergoing the test discover that deception was indicated. It is natural to want to explain that result. Remember, however, that anything that you state in the post-test can be used as evidence against you in court. It is no longer part of the polygraph examination per se, so it is fair game. Many people have "cooked their own goose" unknowingly in the post-test interview. If you feel absolutely compelled to explain a particular result, be very careful in electing the words you choose to do this.
9. Conclusion. The decision to take a polygraph examination can have far reaching impact. You should consider any available alternative means of proving your case before deciding to take a polygraph. If you choose to submit to a polygraph examination, you may want to consider taking a civilian polygraph examination first as a trial run. Be aware that although the results of the polygraph examination itself are not admissible in court, any statements that you make during the pre-test and post-test interviews after a rights advisement are admissible in court. If you should have questions any questions concerning the polygraph examination, please feel free to discuss them with the Area Defense Counsel.