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Polygraph policy to change

Beginning next month, Carroll County will join most other Maryland jurisdictions in the selective use of polygraph testing for rape victims, reversing a long-held policy established by the departing state's attorney.

Jerry F. Barnes, who on Jan. 3 will replace Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, said he doesn't see why police should be denied the use of polygraph examinations in cases where a victim's story doesn't appear to lead anywhere.

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"This is going to be a rare thing, a one-in-a-thousand kind of thing," Mr. Barnes said this week. "Their use will be very, very limited."

The use of polygraph examinations of victims has for years been unofficially banned under Mr. Hickman and his chief sex crimes prosecutor, Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill, who have said the practice is demeaning to crime victims.

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The change in policy means that Carroll will join at least 19 of the state's 24 political subdivisions in the use of polygraph exams in rape or sexual assault cases.

Mr. Barnes said Maryland State Police members of the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit asked him for permission to use the test in their investigations.

"Obviously, this is not a policy carved in stone, but if they feel they need to use it, they should be able to use it," Mr. Barnes said.

"All types of law enforcement agencies use this valid investigative technique. Why shouldn't our guys be able to use it?"

Although police claim that polygraph examinations can be a valuable investigative device in trying to determine if a rape victim is making up accusations, women's groups and some prosecutors decry the practice as discriminatory and abusive.

"Rape crisis centers across the state as well as the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault have long spoken out against subjecting rape victims to polygraphing," said Jo Ann Hare, director of the Carroll County Rape Crisis Intervention Service. "The added burden of submitting to a test which casts aspersions on the truth of their testimony in order to gain the cooperation of law enforcement is grossly unfair."

Ms. Hill, who has long held the view that polygraph exams are no substitute for solid investigations, said a case should rise or fall on the quality of police work.

During the 1994 General Assembly session, a bill that would have banned the use of polygraph tests in rape cases died

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before it could be brought to a vote.

The bill was introduced after a controversial Howard County rape case. In 1992, a 19-year-old woman reported she had been abducted from her home at gunpoint and raped at a man's house while he videotaped the attack. Howard police, unable to corroborate her story, asked her to submit to a polygraph test. She failed, and was charged with making a false report.

Several months later, a 22-year-old woman was raped in nearly the same fashion -- first being driven to her abductor's home in Silver Spring.

William Kirk Evans, a 52-year-old computer analyst, pleaded guilty to the attacks. He was sentenced this year to life in prison.

Howard County police -- as do police agencies elsewhere -- stand behind the practice, although Howard severely curtailed the use of polygraph exams in rape cases after the 1992 events.

"Victims of sexual assault will not be polygraphed unless the focus of a police investigation centers on a particular individual and insufficient evidence exists to clearly support the victim's allegations," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a police spokesman.

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Before the 1992 experience, Howard police could request to have a victim polygraphed whether or not there was a specific suspect; now, an individual must be targeted in the investigation, Sergeant Keller said.

In 1992, four rape victims were given polygraph examinations in Howard, and three of those women recanted after failing the test. Last year, no rape victims were given polygraph tests, Sergeant Keller said. But, of the 24 reports of rape or sexual assault in 1993, eight were later deemed to be false, he said.

State police Cpl. James L. Mitchell, who will conduct the polygraph exams for Carroll sexual abuse investigators, said the polygraph is a valuable law enforcement resource.

He said that, "Officially, the state police does not polygraph victims." Corporal Mitchell -- past president of the Maryland Polygraph Association -- said the test is used on people who have complained of a crime only if investigators begin to suspect that the person is lying.

Of the 200 or so polygraph exams he administers in a year, only a handful are conducted on rape victims.

Mr. Barnes, the incoming prosecutor, said the bottom line is to ensure that the wrong person isn't convicted of a crime.

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"It is a terrible occurrence to convict an innocent person," Mr. Barnes said. "That's a prosecutor's biggest fear."


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