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Admission of Lie Detector Test Causes Reversal in Molestation Case

September 2, 2016

In Parfenuk v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for new trial, holding that the trial court erred in permitting the State to question the defendant about the results of a lie detector test he took at the time of his arrest.

The defendant was charged with sexual battery and child molestation for allegedly touching a girl’s breasts and vaginal area. He denied the charges, but admitted to kissing the alleged victim on the lips after a detective informed him that the results of a voice stress test indicated that he was being deceitful when he denied touching the girl.

At trial, the defendant testified that, at the request of the police, he voluntarily agreed to take the lie detector test and followed the detective to the police department. He admitted that he changed his story after speaking with the detective but did not expressly attribute the change in his story to the results of the test. He did not reveal the test results, and defense counsel did not elicit the results on direct examination.

The State argued that his reference to the lie detector test, without mentioning the results, improperly bolstered his testimony that he had not molested the girl, but merely kissed her on the lips. Over defense counsel’s objection, the trial court allowed the State to question the defendant about the results of the lie detector test.

The Court of Appeals held that though the defendant voluntarily took the lie detector test and said as much at trial, the defendant had not “opened the door” to the admission of the test results as the State contended. The Court further found that although the evidence was sufficient to sustain a conviction, the admission of the test results was highly prejudicial to the defendant. The evidence went directly to the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and the Court could not say that the error was harmless.

It was also noted that lie detector tests are generally only admissible “to explain an actor’s conduct or motive when such is relevant to the issues on trial” or when both parties stipulate. Neither was the case here. The Court stressed that “[a] fundamental premise of our criminal trial system is that the jury is the lie detector.”

As a result, the Court reversed the defendant’s convictions for sexual battery and child molestation and remanded the case for a new trial.

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