n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Utilisation of the polygraph in the criminal justice system (2)

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



In an earlier article by the same authors [ 15(3)] the extensive use of the polygraph in the private sector was highlighted. This article has as objective the further illustration of polygraph utilisation in the criminal justice system. Traditionally, the criminal justice system is described as being comprised of the police, courts and corrections; elements so ordered as to reveal the path of deeper penetration into the system. The authors have deviated from this sequence and present the court element last in an attempt to leave the reader with the question of whether the polygraph should be welcomed as friend and ally of the criminal justice system. The article focuses mainly on the polygraph situation in South Africa and the United States. In dealing with police utilisation of the polygraph, the authors illustrate increasing utilisation thereof in the selection of candidate officers, interrogation of suspects and informants, and in combating police perjury. While somewhat limited, correctional use of the polygraph is illustrated with special attention paid to its use as surveillance mechanism for sexual offenders placed on probation or parole. The cautious approach adopted by the court component of the criminal justice system stands central to the article. In this regard, the article does not make any pretensions to being a legal treatise but rather attempts to provoke thought as to the polygraph's evidentiary possibilities on the basis of applying the principles of common sense to its use. In this regard, the inconsistent evolution of the polygraph's evidentiary position is traced through various selected court cases in the United States. The three dominant approaches regarding the admissibility of polygraph testimony today are then presented. In further questioning the caution shown towards polygraph evidence the authors present the results of two studies comparing such evidence to more readily accepted evidence such as fingerprinting, handwriting identification and eyewitness testimony. Furthermore, the results of a number of reliability and validity studies conducted on polygraph use are noted. Lastly, the various objections to polygraph evidence are presented with special comment being made on the quality of polygraphists and their potential as expert witnesses.

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