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Stipulated Polygraph Leads to Conviction in GA Sex Abuse Case

January 29, 2015

In Thomas v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions on two counts of sexual battery of a child, holding that the trial court properly admitted the results of a polygraph exam because the defendant stipulated to the admissibility of the test.

The record showed that that Clayton County Police interviewed the defendant after they received reports that he had molested a child. The defendant denied the allegations. After the interview, the detective asked the defendant if he would be willing to take a polygraph test to which the defendant agreed. Prior to the exam, the defendant signed a form stipulating to the admissibility of the results.

The detective contended that he failed the exam and testified to this at the defendant’s trial. Although the defendant was indicted on two counts of child molestation, he was only convicted of the offense of sexual battery of a child.

On appeal, he argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence from the polygraph test. The Court of Appeals noted that “as a general rule, the results of polygraph tests are not admissible in evidence, as they are not considered reliable.” A trial court must admit the results, however, when the parties enter into an express stipulation providing that the results of a test will be admissible. The defendant argued that the stipulation here was not express because it was ambiguous. The stipulation provided that the results would be admissible “in the above-styled case” and while the case style State of Georgia vs. Montavious Thomas was written at the top of the document, there was no case number, court name or other identifying information.

The Court of Appeals noted that the information omitted from the document would not have been available at the time because the defendant had not yet been indicted. Because polygraphs frequently take place before a defendant is indicted – while police are still investigating the case – the Court stated that it would be “illogical” to require case-specific information. Instead, the inquiry is whether “at the time the stipulation was made, the defendant was aware he was the subject of a criminal investigation, was aware that criminal charges could be filed against him with respect to the matter that was the subject of the polygraph exam, and understood his constitutional rights” with respect to the exam.

Thus, the Court held that the stipulation was valid and that the trial court properly admitted the results of the polygraph exam.

NOTE: Under no circumstances should a criminal defendant ever agree to a stipulated law enforcement polygraph exam. The primary reason for this is that the particular examiner, as well as the manner in which the test is conducted, can influence the result of the exam. If a defendant has stipulated to the results and the law enforcement examiner concludes that he failed, this will now become the most critical piece of evidence against him.

In a recent case, a client of ours agreed to take an unstipulated GBI polygraph to prove he was innocent of child pornography charges. Of course, the GBI examiner reported that the client failed the exam and we knew that couldn’t be true. So, we subpoenaed the video and charts from the exam and ultimately proved that the examiner was lying.

Fortunately, the video and charts were still available—but had they not been available and had we stipulated to the results of the test, our innocent client could have gone to prison. This is a perfect example of why no one should ever take a stipulated law enforcement polygraph exam.

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