Regulating the Use of Truth Telling Devices in Sexual Assault Cases

The following information examines the use of polygraph tests and other truth-telling devices (sometimes called "lie-detector tests") in sexual assault investigation and provides a list of legislation and other official actions taken by states and territories to regulate the use of polygraphs and other truth-telling devices in the course of sexual assault examinations. The NSVRC does not promote specific legislation, but offers these for educational purposes only.

This collection is meant to support the Violence Against Women Act and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005) provision that truth-telling devices must not be used with sexual assault victims as a condition of charging or prosecution of an offense.

The Use of Truth-Telling Devices in Sexual Assault Investigations

This guide examines special issues relevant to using truth-telling devices with sexual assault victims. Legislative and judicial actions that have been taken as a result of this debate will also be discussed. Victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and policy makers may use this guide to develop policies, practices, and procedures and to improve collaborations regarding the use of truth-telling devices as the VAWA 2005 provision is adopted across the United States.

Legislation and Other Official Actions
Many of these regulations were created in an effort to come into compliance with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005, which amended the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program (STOP Program) and the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program (Arrest Program) to make it a condition of receiving funds that the jurisdiction prohibit the use of truth telling devices on victims of sexual assault as a condition for investigating the offense. These programs provide significant financial support to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices to assist in the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking as well as support to nonprofit, nongovernmental victim service providers. This requirement had to be met by January 5, 2009 in order for that state or territory to receive funds under the STOP Program.

Memoranda of understanding
Memos, Directives, and Policies

Notable differences between state regulations of polygraph use include:

  • The type of officials who are barred from performing the examination.
  • Whether the officials may not ask or require the victim to take a polygraph examination, or whether they may ask but not require this.
  • Whether only polygraph tests are banned, or whether this regulation is extended to other types of truth-telling devices.
  • Whether accepting or refusing the polygraph test can be a factor that affects case progression, or whether it can't affect case progression at all.
  • Whether accepting or refusing the polygraph test can affect whether a case is investigated, or whether this acceptance and refusal can also not affect charging and/or prosecution.
  • Whether there is any punishment for those who disobey these regulations.
  • Whether the agency is required to explain its reasoning upon request if the agency decides not to pursue the case after the victim refuses a polygraph.

This list is not guaranteed to be complete or up-to-date. If you have corrections, additions, or updates to this list, please contact us.