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A growing number of states are using polygraphs to help monitor sex offenders, raising objections from criminal defense attorneys who have concerns about the accuracy of the test, as well as their constitutionality. New York became the latest state to administer the tests when it started examining certain sex offenders in December. New Jersey is scheduled to kick off its program in March, while Alaska’s takes effect on July 1. Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are among the states that already use polygraphs for sex offenders, said Lisa Holley, president of the Philadelphia-based Association of Paroling Authorities International who also chairs the Rhode Island Parole Board. Differing rules In states that use polygraphs, the rules vary greatly. For example, Louisiana officials said polygraphs are not standard procedure for monitoring sex offenders, but could be used in certain cases, Holley said. In Michigan, polygraphs are only used in some counties. And in Colorado, polygraphs have been used statewide for years, prompting many states to turn to Colorado for advice on implementing their own programs. A polygraph can potentially deter sex offenders from inappropriate behavior since they know they will be asked about it at some point, said Charles Onley, a research associate at the Center for Sex Offender Management in Silver Spring, Md., which works to improve management of sex offenders. In New York, officials budgeted $1 million for the current fiscal year to buy equipment, provide training and pay the examiners, said Scott Steinhardt, a spokesman for the New York State Division of Parole. While the state has more than 24,000 registered sex offenders, the parole division is in charge of fewer than 2,000 of them, and only “level III” offenders are currently being required to take polygraph tests, Steinhardt said. Level III offenders are considered to be at the highest risk for re-offending, the most serious of the three classification levels. Thirteen individuals have completed a nine-week course that allows them to administer the tests, which are given randomly and typically last two to three hours, Steinhardt said. Offenders may be asked where they have been and what they have been doing in order to help assess whether their treatment should be modified or their surveillance enhanced, he said. “The reality is that this is no different than asking the individual to take a drug test,” Steinhardt said. “This is just another tool in our containment strategy.” But the Washington-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has voiced concerns about the use of polygraphs on sex offenders. “I can’t speak for the final report but my hope is that we will come out opposing the use of polygraphs for parolees,” said Michael Iacopino, co-chairman of the organization’s Sex Offender Policy Task Force, which is assessing the issues. Iacopino, a partner at Brennan, Caron, Lenehan & Iacopino in Manchester, N.H., said he has many concerns about polygraph exams, such as their reliability and their role in coercing sex offenders to admit things they otherwise would not admit. “For parolees, I think it’s an unreliable process and it violates their Fifth Amendment rights,” he said. Polygraphs a ‘tool’ Carl Wicklund, executive director of the American Probation and Parole Association, a Lexington, Ky.-based organization composed of individuals working in probation, parole and community-based corrections, agreed that polygraphs have limitations. But he added that the tests can be an important part of a supervising officer’s larger plan. “In most cases it’s a tool that’s being used in conjunction with treatment,” he said. Polygraph examinations collect a person’s physiological data with the goal of detecting reactions associated with dishonesty, such as sweating and cardiovascular activity. The U.S. Supreme Court found polygraphs unreliable in 1998′s U.S. v. Scheffer, 523 U.S 303. But some courts have recognized peripheral use of polygraph tests.

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