News 03.13.13

Polygraph Tests Contribute to False Confessions in Chicago

A recent Chicago Tribune investigation discovered that Chicago police have long been conducting polygraph exams, or “lie detector tests,” without adherence to standards, though the tests have contributed to wrongful convictions that have cost Chicago millions in damages.

Chicago Police polygraph examiners do not have their work reviewed by anyone else, and only a small percentage of the tests are recorded. Further, the examiners do not follow the nationally established protocols for conducting the tests. 

Juan Rivera, Kevin Fox, Nicole Harris and Gary Gauger were all wrongfully convicted based, in part, on the false confessions they gave after officials misled them into believing that they had failed their polygraphs. Donny McGee faced a trial for murder after a member of the Chicago polygraph unit falsely testified that McGee confessed in the polygraph room, before he could even take the test. McGee was found not guilty and DNA evidence later excluded him. 

Polygraphs have been implicated in multiple other cases of wrongful convictions nationwide. The Chicago Tribune reports:

But in the cases in which Chicago murder suspects went on to be cleared — some after spending years locked up — police polygraph examiners were accused of making up a confession, using “trickery” to get an admission and telling a suspect he failed a polygraph that an outside expert would later deem too poorly administered to determine its result.

In five of the six cases, suspects were taken to [polygraph examiner Robert] Bartik. Suspects said they were drawn in by the promise of the polygraph — which they believed was a scientific test that would prove their protestations of innocence were true. Instead, they allege in court documents and interviews, Bartik obtained confessions from them by berating them, threatening them and lying to them.

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