Bill to prohibit lie detector tests on rape victims has small chance of survival

February 02, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

A state bill that would prohibit police from asking rape victims to take polygraph tests appeared headed for an early grave yesterday after the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee defeated it.

The bill would prohibit police and prosecutors from asking victims of a sex crime to take a polygraph unless the accused took one first and passed.

An identical measure is still pending in the House of Delegates. Harford County Del. Mary Louise Preis said yesterday that she plans to redraft her bill and bring it to a vote in the House Judiciary Committee in the next couple of weeks.

The Senate committee, however, is not expected to reconsider the bill unless the new version is substantially different from the one it killed yesterday in a 5-to-5 vote.

Sen. Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery, put the bill in this year after hearing complaints about the practice and reading an article in The Sun last August.

The Sun article focused on a Howard County rape victim whom police branded a liar after she failed a polygraph. Her assailant, however, raped another woman months later in nearly identical fashion and eventually pleaded guilty to both attacks.

Police in Baltimore and 19 of Maryland's 23 counties give polygraphs to rape victims. The issue surfaced in the past year after women in several counties complained about it to rape counselors.

Polygraphs are not admissible in Maryland courts, and their accuracy is a source of great debate. Women's advocates say polygraphing rape victims is unreliable and discriminatory, as the vast majority are women.

Some police agencies have countered that the polygraph is a valuable tool they use sparingly to weed out false accusations and save innocent men jail time.

It was that argument that seemed to sway members in the Senate committee yesterday.

"I don't know what the idea of the bill is," said committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat. "I guess it's to take a tool away from law enforcement officers."

"It's rarely done," said John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, who cast the deciding vote to kill the bill.

"You could be the one rape victim it's done to," responded Sen. Mary H. Boergers, a Montgomery County Democrat and gubernatorial candidate.

Senator Boergers and Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, a Baltimore County Democrat, are the only women on the 11-member committee. Both voted in favor of the bill.

The committee vice chairman, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County, was absent.

During an earlier hearing yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee, a representative for the state's rape crisis centers opposed the bill on the grounds that it did not go far enough.

Carol L. McCulloch, vice president of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, asked that the bill also require police to develop a written policy regarding when to use a polygraph in sex crime cases.

She also asked that polygraphers be licensed and receive sensitivity training for handling rape victims.

Delegate Preis said she would redraft the bill to include the changes.

State police Cpl. Jim Mitchell, president of the Maryland Polygraph Association, said he had no objections to licensing polygraphers, something the state does not now do.

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