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Oyler Wants To Submit Polygraph As Evidence, Despite Doubt From Science Community

Peoria At-Large Councilman Zach Oyler is trying to submit polygraph readings as evidence in his domestic battery case.

Oyler’s defense attorney, Robert Hanauer, filed a motion Tuesday that argues the polygraph results could corroborate the testimony of a witness at trial.

According to the motion, polygraph examiner Steve Woody asked Oyler if he came straight home after leaving work and if he physically struck or hit his wife on July 30th. Oyler answered no to both questions. Woody said his responses held up.

The order of protection petition filed by Oyler’s wife said he came home after drinking at a bar. When she tried to leave the house, she said he tried took her phone, threw her to the ground and put his arm around her neck. She was later able to get her phone back and call police.

So-called lie detector tests are inadmissible in nearly all court settings.

Dr. Leonard Saxe, a clinical psychologist and professor at Brandeis University near Boston, said that’s because virtually everyone in the scientific community holds that polygraphs are not accurate.

“The fundamental issue is that there’s no unique physiological reaction to lying,” Saxe said. “A polygraph test measures anxiety — and anxiety is sometimes associated with lying, but other times is associated with trying really hard to tell the truth.”

Saxe said polygraph tests are still sometimes used in extrajudicial settings — during police investigations or law enforcement employment screening, for example.

“Part of the reason is it sometimes induces people to confess,” he said. “If the subject thinks that they can be detected, they will either be extremely nervous or they’ll give up whatever information they’re trying to conceal.”

But he said it’s hard to picture any court seriously considering polygraphs.

“In some cases, there may not be alternatives [to prove truth or innocence],” Saxe said. “But that doesn’t mean you use unreliable science as evidence.”

Still, Hanauer argues it should be up to the judge to decide if the polygraph is admissible as evidence — and denying that discretion would violate Oyler’s Sixth Amendment rights.

Oyler is due back in court for a review on Oct. 16.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.
Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.