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Utah Criminal Defense Attorney - Polygraphs

A federal district court issued an opinion in April, 2015 in the case of United States v. Jesus Hernado Angulo-Mosquera, holding that the results of a polygraph examination administered to the defendant by a former FBI special agent would be admitted at trial. This case runs contrary to the position held by many (or most) Utah judges and attorneys that polygraph examination results are generally not admissible in court.

Polygraph examination can play an important role in the investigation, prosecution, and defense of criminal cases. If you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah or have been asked to take a polygraph exam by a police investigator or detective, it is important to first seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

Admissibility of Polygraph Exam Results in Utah Criminal Cases

The Utah Supreme Court addressed the admissibility of polygraph examination results in the case of State v. Crosby, 927 P.2d 638 (Utah 1996). Specifically, the court addressed the question of whether polygraph examination at that time was sufficiently reliable to meet the standards set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmeceuticals or by the Utah Supreme Court in State v. Rimmasch.

The Utah Supreme Court in Crosby upheld the trial court's decision to exclude evidence of the polygraph exam results. But the court also held open the possibility of reexamining the issue in the future. To succeed, the court stated the proponent polygraph evidence would have to "make a detailed foundational showing, specifically demonstrating how research or recent developments in the field have made polygraph evidence more reliable."

In the federal case of United States v. Angulo-Mosquera, the defense presented evidence and testimony to suggest that the science behind polygraph examination had developed to the point that it should be admitted. The defense polygraph expert testified that polygraph theories, methods, and techniques can and have been tested; that the known or potential error rate of polygraph techniques is within an acceptable range; that the techniques have been subject to peer review; and that the techniques have been generally accepted in relevant scientific community (read as "police use them and polygraphers say they work").

The court's opinion notes, "The Government did not present any evidence or testimony at the hearing to contradict [the defense expert's] testimony." It seems that in some ways, the defense may have caught the prosecution asleep at the wheel and that the defense win may have been a win more as a matter of default than as a matter of substance. The fact that the prosecution failed to present any evidence to contradict the defense expert leaves unanswered the question of how the court might have ruled if the prosecution had brought in their own expert to testify that polygraphs are junk science.

The Nagulo-Mosquera case is not a Utah case nor is it an appellate court decision. And so it carries no binding precedential value in the Utah court system. Further, since the case originates in the 11th Circuit and is consistent with prior 11th Circuit appellate jurisprudence, it is unclear just what impact this trial court decision will have on the use of polygraph evidence in the future.

Use of Polygraph Examination in Utah Criminal Cases

Although the admission of evidence relating to polygraph examination results has not been generally approved by Utah courts, polygraph examination is often used by police as an investigative tool. From a criminal defense perspective, polygraph examination can sometimes be used as a tool to convince prosecutors to dismiss or decline filing criminal charges altogether. Particularly in cases where the evidence is questionable, a defendant's positive (truthful) polygraph result can be helpful outside formal courtroom proceedings.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing criminal prosecution, or if a police investigator or detective has requested that you take a polygraph exam, there are important constitutional protections that you must understand. The assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

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In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

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