US Federal Chief Judge Supports Use of CVSA

Northern District of New York Chief Judge Norman A. Mordue ruled that sex offenders can be required to submit to the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) as part of their post-release supervision to determine if they are telling the truth, and that the technique is analogous to polygraph examinations, which have been accepted by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as a way to monitor the activities of those under post-release supervision.

The 2nd Circuit in United States v. Johnson, 446 F.2d 272 (2006), held that polygraphs were not unreliable, that they could be validly related to the post-release supervision of an offender and that they did not deprive a defendant of his rights under the Fifth Amendment. The same qualities apply to the CVSA devices, Judge Mordue determined.

Judge Mordue, ruling from Syracuse, N.Y., in Gjurovich v. United States, 5:01-cr-215, conceded that federal authorities have acknowledged there have been questions in the past regarding whether voice stress analysis is should be legally supported.

“However, as noted by the 2nd Circuit in Johnson, when confronted with the same arguments about polygraph testing, the reliability of the technology and its admissibility as evidence ‘does not bear much on the therapeutic value of the tool,'” Judge Mordue wrote. “Petitioner argues that the use of the CVSA is not reasonably related to the purposes of sentencing. The Court disagrees based on ‘the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.'”

Advocates of CVSA technology say the devices can detect otherwise inaudible voice inflections in response to questions that can indicate whether a speaker is being truthful.

Testimony before Judge Mordue indicated that some 1,800 law enforcement agencies in the United States have the devices available. Most have been manufactured by the National Institute for Truth Verification or NITV, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based company that has been producing the devices since 1997.

Judge Mordue declined to revoke the terms of Ethan J. Gjurovich’s supervised release from federal prison that the U.S. Probation Office sought following Gjurovich’s completion of a five year, 10-month sentence for transporting child pornography and possessing child pornography in 2007.

The term also included a three-year period of supervised release.

The supervision period had required that Gjurovich submit to regular polygraph exams about his activities in the community. In August 2008, the Probation Office of the Northern District of New York sought to modify the terms of his supervision to add the requirement that he also submit to CVSA exams if asked.

CVSA Gets Results

MANITOWOC — When police question suspects and victims, they need to differentiate the truth from a lie. They can do just that with the help of the recently acquired computerized voice stress analyzer, among the latest in lie-detector equipment. “That’s what a lie does not look like — it’s what we call a Christmas tree effect,” said Detective Dave Vorpahl, pointing to a computer screen in one of the Manitowoc Police Department’s interview rooms. On the screen is a graph that is pointy at the top and wider at the base. A lie, on the other hand, is more spread out and has a blocky look, Vorpahl said, pointing to another graph.

Time-saving device

The voice analyzer can save police time that would be spent following bad leads and investigating
misinformation, said Chief Tony Dick.“A lot of investigations are time sensitive. The sooner you can get on the hot trail, the better off you are,” he said. Detective Dave McCue recalled one recent case the system help him solve. “I was able to get a confession. Eventually, the person admitted to armed robbery, so it was a serious case,” he said. In another case, a sexual assault suspect wanted to take the test and his name was cleared, thanks, in
part, to the voice analyzer test, McCue said.

The voice analyzer also helps weed out false claims of prescription drug theft, often made by drug
abusers as a way to get more drugs from their doctors, who require a police report of the theft,
Vorpahl said.

“There’s a big drug problem in this community and we don’t want them to use us to supply their drug
habit,” McCue said.

While the test results aren’t admissible in court and can’t be used as a basis to charge someone with
obstruction for lying, they help point police in the right direction, Vorpahl said.

How the voice analysis works

“When you lie, there are things in your voice that change, that you have no control over. You and I can’t hear it, but the computer can,” McCue said. Under relaxed conditions, the human voice vibrates at a specific rate. The muscles tighten up under stress and the vibration changes or stops. The voice analyzer detects this change, indicating the presence of stress and deception, said Vorpahl, referring to his CVSA certified examiners course handbook. Police typically conduct a pre-interview in which they decide which of the system’s numerous voice analysis tests to give the person and what questions they will ask, Vorpahl said. Police formulate questions and include two controlled questions, which are known lies, so detectives have a basis of comparison, he said. It’s very important to properly develop the questions to fit the specific case that detectives are working on, rather than being general and open-ended, McCue said. “We try to keep the person comfortable. It’s a non-confrontational interview,” Vorpahl said. That way, police are able to discern situation stress from lies, McCue said. Test results are always verified by another person and can be emailed anywhere in the country for verification by an independent party, McCue said. Police then follow-up on the leads they’ve gleaned from the interview and with the person who took the test. “Our department has been quite progressive on techniques in assisting officers and detectives to do their jobs better and more effectively,” Vorpahl said.

Requires regular training

The National Institution for Truth Verification manufactures the CVSA and trains users. Those trained in the system must follow up every one to two years for additional training, McCue said. The equipment is portable and easy to use in that focuses on measuring one thing, the voice, Vorpahl said. The police department received the analyzer from the Manitowoc County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and detectives Vorpahl and McCue took 40 hours of training on the system at the Green Bay Police Department in October. Officer Andrew Trilling as well as law officers with other departments in the county also are knowledgeable in using the unit, Vorpahl said.

The Truth Surrounding Lie Detection Technology

To look at truths relating to lie detection seems ironic. Machines designed to detect human deception have for one reason or another kept innocent people free and led to criminal confessional and convictions. How or why has caused much debate. Yet, applications of these machines have broadened. As polygraph and voice stress analysis technologies continue to advance, they bring with them controversy and concern.

Law enforcement has ben using a machine to help detect lies since 1920, when John Larson, A Berkley (Calif.) police officer with a Ph.D. in physiology used a machine to simultaneously chart breathing and blood pressure. Modern-day polygraphs also record physiological activities as “many writings.” The American Polygraph Association (APA), founded in 1966, described today’s polygraph examination: “Convoluted rubber tubes are placed over an examinee’s chest and abdominal area to record respiratory activity.”

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NACVSA Exposes Inaccuracies of Polygraph Tests

According to the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts (NACVSA), a disturbing trend has been exposed involving innocent people failing polygraph examinations and then being interrogated until they confess. Had it not been for the advent of DNA evidence and other advanced investigative technologies many of the thousands of people who failed polygraphs and were later wrongly convicted of crimes would spend their lives in prison, or worse, have been executed.

The Associated Press reported that Jeffery Deskovic was wrongly convicted for murder and spent 16 years in prison. He had voluntarily taken a polygraph test which lasted seven-hours and was told he failed. He was on the floor in the fetal position when detectives took his confession. In 2006 DNA evidence cleared him and so far this egregious error has cost the government close to 14 million dollars in awards to Deskovic.

The AP also reported that an innocent Darrel Parker was sentenced to life in prison for his wife’s murder. Hours after his wife’s funeral, Parker was summoned to the police station where he was subjected to a 12- hour polygraph examination. The polygraph operator stated Parker failed the test and then coerced a confession from him. Parker’s conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court 16 years later and he received a full pardon.

Frank Sterling was a “person of interest” in a murder investigation and he agreed to take a polygraph test from the New York State Police. Mark Christie was another ‘person of interest’ in the same case and also took a polygraph. Christie passed the polygraph but Sterling failed. Police then coerced a confession from Sterling. Sterling was convicted and spent 22 years in prison. Ironically, Christie, who was the actual killer and passed the polygraph, went on to kill four-year-old Kali Ann Poulton. After his conviction for Kali’s murder, he confessed to the murder Sterling was found guilty of after failing a polygraph.

In addition to many innocent people being wrongfully sent to prison because of failing the polygraph, in 2008 the Associated Press reported that the federal government admitted the polygraph test could be easily beaten using simple techniques. Many criminals have done just that. Nonetheless, federal agents then began arresting individuals teaching the simple steps to defeat the polygraph, which were publicly available on the Internet.

According to an article published in Law and Order, the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) is far superior to the error-prone polygraph, and the CVSA is now being used by over 2,000 law enforcement agencies worldwide including those in Atlanta, Nashville, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami as well as the California Highway Patrol and the US Federal Courts.

According to the NACVSA, serious questions remain about the 100-year old polygraph device and its well documented high error rate. For instance, why do the US Departments of Justice and Defense continue to support the polygraph when the CVSA has been scientifically proven to be the most accurate truth verification tool available in the world and is available today?