Court: Massachusetts Police Must Take Lie Detector Tests
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that police involved in internal investigations may be forced to take lie detector tests. The decision clarifies a law prohibiting employers from pressuring employees to submit to polygraph testing during criminal investigations, noting that cases involving potentially criminal actions are not protected by the restriction.
According to Boston.com, the decision comes from a case involving Officer Kevin J. Furtado, who was accused in 1999 of sexually abusing two minor children. Before the county charged Furtado with any criminal offenses, though, the children’s mother reportedly announced that the accusations were unfounded.
Though the case bypassed criminal court, sources indicate that the county initiated an internal departmental investigation.
During the course of that investigation, Furtado evidently refused to take a lie detector test, citing a law that bars employers from pressing their workers into submitting to such tests. But it seems Furtado’s boss preferred to play it safe and refused to let Furtado come back to work until he took the test.
Furtado apparently refused the lie detector test because of a state law that permits such tests specifically in criminal investigations. Because he was never officially charged with any criminal offenses, Furtado’s criminal defense allegedly argued, the department could not force him to take the test.
The Patriot Ledger notes that, once he was promised that the results of the polygraph couldn’t be used as evidence in a criminal case against him, Furtado agreed to submit to the test. The results, according to reports, were inconclusive, which means that no disciplinary action was taken. Furtado then sued the county for violating his rights, but saw his case dismissed by two courts.
And the Supreme Court, too, disagreed with Furtado’s reasoning. In its decision, the Justices indicated that any investigation of criminal behavior could justify a lie detector test, whether or not an actual criminal case was likely to be initiated.
Additionally, the Court noted in its decision that requiring law enforcement officials to submit to lie detection tests is in the best interests of law enforcement as a unit, and so is not protected by the employer/employee lie detection ban, and does not require that formal criminal charges be brought against the test-taker.
The Court reportedly also mentioned that the results of lie detector tests from departmental investigations of officers cannot be used as evidence in criminal court.