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State reaches decision on ‘lie detector’ test, ruling doesn’t change results for convicted sex offender

ST. PAUL -- It is well-known that polygraph testing -- the infamous "lie detector" test -- is not allowed as evidence in courtrooms because the tests generally are not reliable.But many convicted criminals in Minnesota submit to polygraph testing...

ST. PAUL - It is well-known that polygraph testing - the infamous “lie detector” test - is not allowed as evidence in courtrooms because the tests generally are not reliable.
But many convicted criminals in Minnesota submit to polygraph testing as part of probation requirements.
That was the case for Chad Michael Nowacki, 41, in Swift County.
He pleaded guilty in 2010 to third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 15 years of probation. Two of his probation conditions were the mandatory completion of a sex-offender treatment program and mandatory polygraph testing.
In 2015, Nowacki was terminated from the sex-offender treatment program, which was a violation of his probation requirements.
According to court records, during a subsequent court hearing to determine if he had violated probation, his therapist testified he was “struggling in his sex offender treatment.”
She referenced multiple polygraph tests Nowacki had taken and failed, and a statement he had then made to her that he had been “withholding sexual thoughts” about young girls.
Nowacki was found guilty of violating probation requirements at the hearing. The Swift County judge gave him an additional 36-month sentence.
So Nowacki appealed the probation violation hearing, arguing that the court unlawfully used polygraph testing as evidence against him in the probation violation hearing.
It “can hardly be said that the fact that the (district court) determined that (he) had been lying about his sexual fantasies had no influence on the court’s disposition of the case,” Nowacki’s attorney argued in his appeal.
In a decision by judges in the Minnesota Court of Appeals filed Monday, the appeals court ruled that Swift County District Court should not have used the polygraph tests in court - that it “abused its discretion” by using the failed tests as evidence in the hearing.
“Evidence, of a failed polygraph test, that has not been proven reliable, cannot be clear and convincing evidence of a probation violation,” Judge Larry Stauber wrote in the court’s opinion.
But the appeals court did not overturn the court’s decision that Nowacki had violated his probation.
He had admitted he was not being honest about his thoughts. There were “a myriad of reasons” he did not complete probation that were actually admissible in court, besides the negative polygraphs, Stauber wrote in the court’s opinion.
The probation violation was Nowacki’s third.
“Accordingly, we are certain that, on this record, the error in admitting the references to the polygraph did not affect the district court’s decision,” Stauber wrote.
Polygraph tests are still allowed for use in treatment, therapy, monitoring or evaluation of offenders. Test refusal can be grounds for a probation violation - but not test results, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.

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