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Court of Appeals Rules That Pre-Polygraph Interview is Admissible

February 15, 2022

The Court held that the defendant’s statements in the interview can be admitted at trial as long as it can be accomplished without any reference to the polygraph exam.

In State v. Hill, the State appealed the trial court’s ruling that the two interviews the police conducted with the defendant should be excluded from evidence at trial. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed these rulings and held that the trial court erred in concluding that the interviews contained prejudicial information that rendered them inadmissible.

Interviews and Motion in Limine

The defendant was charged with the offenses of enticing a child for indecent purposes, child molestation, and sexual battery. During the investigation of the case, the defendant was initially interviewed by a police investigator. It was then decided that the defendant would agree to submit to a polygraph examination. As a result, another investigator conducted a pre-polygraph interview with the defendant along with the polygraph examiner. Following that interview, the defendant then refused to take the polygraph.

The defendant’s trial attorney filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude both of these interviews at trial. It was argued that during the interviews, the investigators commented on the credibility of other witnesses and also repeated these witnesses’ statements.

The trial court ruled that the majority of the first interview should be excluded since there was no way to effectively redact the investigator’s many comments on the credibility of both the defendant and others as well as the numerous hearsay statements from other witnesses.

Regarding the second interview, the trial court held that the pre-polygraph interview was part of the “polygraph process” and therefore inadmissible since polygraphs are not admissible at trial without a stipulation from the parties. The court also found that the investigator made many of the same improper comments that were made in the first interview.

Court of Appeals Analysis

The Court of Appeals noted at the outset that the Georgia Supreme Court has held that a police officer’s statements or comments during an interview with a suspect are not the same as sworn testimony at trial. So, even if such statements would be improper if the officer testified to those opinions on the witness stand, they can still be admissible if they are presented at trial through the playing of a recording of the interview. The only exception to this is if the prejudicial effect of the comments outweighs their probative value.
Therefore, the Court held that the trial court’s exclusion of the first interview was erroneous.

Regarding the second interview, the Court of Appeals first held that evidence that the defendant had initially agreed, and then refused, to submit to the polygraph was definitely inadmissible at trial. But, the Court cautioned that this did not necessarily mean that the defendant’s statements during the pre-polygraph interview were also inadmissible.

The Court then cited to the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Drane v. State where it was held that statements made by a defendant either prior to or following a polygraph test may be admissible so long as there is nothing mentioned to the jury about the polygraph. Essentially, the idea is that the jury could hear that the defendant did in fact make these statements but not be given the precise context in which they were made. So, based on the ruling in Drane, the Court ruled that the trial court’s exclusion of this interview in its entirety was erroneous.

Reversal and Remand Back to the Trial Court

As a result, the trial court’s rulings were reversed and the case will be remanded back to the trial court for rulings consistent with this opinion. What this likely means is that the first interview will be admissible in its entirety unless the defendant can show that the investigator’s comments are so prejudicial that they outweigh the probative value of the evidence. With respect to the second interview, the trial court will likely apply the same analysis to the improper comments and must determine whether the defendant’s statements can be admitted at trial without any reference to the polygraph exam.

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