How common are false confessions?

Last month, the Chicago Tribune reported on the use of polygraph examinations by the Chicago Police Department to get false confessions.  This shocking article tells of police tactics to intimidate and coerce false confessions by using a polygraph as a threat or claiming that the suspect failed.  Even more alarming are the signs that police do not administer the test correctly and do not document what takes place during the test that results in a supposed confession.  Many victims of the Police Department have sued the city for millions of dollars after being wrongfully jailed for crimes they did not commit.

This seems unbelievable to think an innocent person would confess to a crime they did not commit.  Even more unbelievable that police would fabricate a confession that didn’t even happen while the actual perpetrator knowingly walks the street.  Knowing this, you should know what to expect and how to help yourself if you are even accused of a crime.  Your best defense will be to call a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible.

The Law of Polygraphs

polygraph is a machine designed to measure certain physical characteristics associated with lying, like heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration.  This is a device we know law enforcement uses to help with investigations, but it is not always a reliable.  Because of that unreliability, they are not admissible in court as evidence.  See People v. Baynes.  More importantly, police cannot force anyone to take a polygraph exam.  See 225 ILCS 430.

The rules governing polygraph tests in Illinois require that they examiner be qualified for starters and that the examiner must submit the person to a Pre-Test Interview.  At a minimum, the examiner must tell the test taker what issues the test will cover, write down the questions to be asked and read them to the test taker, write the answers on that same list of prospective questions, refrain from interrogating the test taker to get a confession prior to the test, and the examiner must tell the test taker that the exam is voluntary and get consent before proceeding.

Along with the rules for polygraph examiners and standard operating procedures, the law also provides for the protection of rights for test takers.  At minimum, a test taker should be presented with a document outlining basic rights, be tested by properly maintained equipment, allowed to terminate the exam at any time, be free from interrogation during the test, and be free from questions asked not discussed in the pre-test interview.

Now imagine being interrogated for hours on end for a crime you know you didn’t commit then being told you failed a test that should prove your innocence.  After exhaustion, confusion, trauma, and harassment take their toll it may seem like agreeing with police is the only way out, especially when science fails you too.  You should not be pressured or intimidated into giving up your rights.  Call a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney immediately if you or someone you know has been the subject of a polygraph test.

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