On March 4, 2009, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided the case of State v. A.O., and held that polygraph evidence that is based on a stipulation signed by the accused without counsel is inadmissible. Anyone accused or suspected of a crime in New Jersey should consult with a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer about their rights and obligations.
In this case, A.O. was accused of rape by his girlfriend’s daughter. About four hours after he was accused, A.O. agreed to take a lie-detector test so that he could clear his name. Without talking to an attorney, A.O. signed a stipulation before taking the test, within which he: (1) agreed that the polygraph examiner was an expert, (2) waived any objection to the admissibility of the expert’s testimony, (3) waived the right to call his own expert to challenge the test, and (4) agreed that the results of the lie-detector test would be admissible at trial. The reason the police ask for this stipulation is because lie-detector tests have been widely held to be inaccurate, and therefore, without a stipulation, they are not admissible at trial.
The defendant failed the test, the lie-detector evidence was used against him at trial based on the stipulation, and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. The only credible evidence against A.O. was the lie-detector test. There was no physical or medical evidence of rape. In addition, the child that accused A.O. of rape recanted prior to trial, and had also accused a DYFS worker of sexual assault and later recanted that accusation as well.
The State argued that the right to counsel provided by the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Para. 10 of the New Jersey Constitution, does not apply until a person accused with a crime is formally charged. At the time A.O. took the lie-detector test, he had not yet even been arrested and had not been charged with any crime. The Supreme Court of New Jersey generally agreed that the right to counsel does not apply until a suspect has been formally accused with a crime. However, the Supreme Court also noted that lie-detector tests present a special situation because they are generally considered unreliable in the scientific community (in fact, 28 states have entirely banned their use in court), but are generally considered infallible by the public.
Relying on the Court’s overarching constitutional responsibility to guarantee the proper administration of justice, the Supreme Court barred the introduction of polygraph evidence based on stipulations entered into without counsel. The reason for this is because the stipulations are requiring the defendant not only to make determinations about what information he is going to give, but also to make determinations that touch upon trial strategy. Trial strategy is within the domain of defense counsel, and defense counsel should be the one to make determinations about challenging the admissibility of evidence at trial. It is advisable that any suspect accused of a crime in New Jersey consult with a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer regarding their defense.