Civil Service Commission Issues Written Decision Affirming Refusal to Allow Results of Polygraphs into Evidence

The full Massachusetts Civil Service Commission has affirmed a hearing Commissioner’s ruling that a City cannot introduce evidence of the results of a lie detector test. Sandulli Grace Attorney Bryan Decker successfully argued at hearing that polygraph results should not be allowed into evidence because lie detector tests are so unreliable as to be (in the words of the Maryland Appeals Court) “incompetent.” The full Commission has now agreed, closing the door on municipalities that seek to introduce polygraph results. The Commission joins other states such as Illinois, Maryland and Ohio that refuse polygraph evidence in administrative hearings when a public employee’s job and reputation are on the line.

This victory comes as we are still waiting for the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in the Furtado v. Plymouth case, which involves whether a police chief can order a police officer to take a polygraph examination during a non-criminal disciplinary investigation, although all other employees in the state are protected from such an order. Sandulli Grace submitted a friend of the court brief in the case arguing for equal treatment for police officers, and discussing the history of polygraphs as pseudo-science. We’ll let you know as soon as a decision is issued.

Whatever the outcome in Furtado, it is our hope that Police Chiefs will stop wasting time and money trying to intimidate employees with the “magic truth box.” Since the results from any results from any “failed” polygraph tests will not be admissible in disciplinary hearings, the tests themselves serve no legitimate governmental purpose.

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