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Military Lie-Detector Ban Stands

March 31, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today upheld a ban on the use of lie-detector results in military courts, saying it did not violate the constitutional rights of defendants.

``There is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable,″ the court said, ruling 8-1 in the case of a California airman who wanted to tell a court-martial jury that he passed a lie-detector test.

Various courts ``may reasonably reach differing conclusions as to whether polygraph evidence should be admitted,″ Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

``To this day, the scientific community remains extremely polarized about the reliability of polygraph techniques,″ Thomas wrote. ``There is simply no way to know in a particular case whether a polygraph examiner’s conclusion is accurate.″

The military ban on use of such evidence ``does not unconstitutionally abridge the right to present a defense,″ Thomas said.

Today’s ruling reverses a military appeals court’s decision that said an airman should not have been automatically barred from introducing lie-detector results during his court-martial on charges of using drugs and writing bad checks.

A military rule signed by President Bush in 1991 forbade any reference to lie-detector tests in criminal trials.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces said that rule violated Edward G. Scheffer’s right under the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment to present relevant evidence in his defense. The military appeals court said Scheffer should be given a chance to convince a judge that the test results should be allowed.

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