Voice Stress? Think Again…….
Appeal Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court
Notorious voice stress case proceeds to trial or expensive settlement;
High Court rejects police appeal on Stephanie Crowe murder civil suit
The Stephanie Crowe murder case of 1998 has brought a fresh load of grief to the Escondido and Oceanside, California, police agencies and to individual members of those departments who have been the defendants in a long-running civil case.
In 1998 the investigating officers looked no further than the brother of the
12-year-old victim who was found stabbed to death in her own bedroom.
Stephanie’s brother, then 14, and two of his 15-year-old male friends were questioned relentlessly by police and given voice stress analysis tests, using equipment made by the National Institute for Truth Verification (NITV).
NITV is the biggest marketer of voice stress gear to police departments and has made many unsupported claims of accuracy, usually that it is 100 per cent accurate.
NITV has consistently refused to accept results of research conducted
over several decades that has repeatedly shown accuracy at chance levels, as good as flipping a coin.
The police told the three teenaged suspects that their voice stress tests indicated they were lying, and the interrogations continued until the boys made at least partial admissions.
One of the boys took two tests, so four voice stress tests were administered altogether. All of the results were wrong, which turned out to be a 100 per cent inaccuracy rate!
The boys were charged with murder.
The police had also questioned a homeless man and released him after
seizing his sweatshirt. Two years later a defense attorney asked to have the sweatshirt analyzed, which revealed traces of the victim’s blood.
Charges against the boys were dismissed and the homeless man, who was delusional and diagnosed as schizophrenic, was arrested for the murder. His trial, which otherwise might have lasted only a few days, was prolonged for several weeks at considerable expense as he used the initial arrests of the boys in his own defense. He was convicted.
The families sued NITV and the police. The insurance company for NITV paid off early, despite the complaints of Charles Humble, founder of NITV, who said he wanted to fight the civil suit. He also said that if the voice stress results were wrong, it could only be because the equipment was used improperly, not exactly resounding support for the police.
Last year a psychologist who had consulted with the police on the case also paid off at nearly one million dollars.
The civil case against the police was at one time dismissed by the judge
who originally let the case proceed against NITV. He concluded that the police had acted in good faith.
In the passing years, the original judge died and an appeal by the families moved ahead. Last year the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the complaint against the police. The police made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in January refused to hear the case.
Trial or settlement are the only options now remaining.
Any settlement is expected to be in the millions of dollars. Trial would be a difficult route, after the Court of Appeals ruled that the five police investigators, four from Escondido and one from Oceanside, had violated the rights of the two boys who remain in the civil suit (one dropped out) by putting them through “hours of grueling, psychologically abusive interrogations.”
The result, according to the Court, was charges against “innocent teenagers for a crime they did not commit.”
Any settlement would be paid by the insurance companies for the jurisdictions, but taxpayers will ultimately pay the bill in higher premiums.
The North County Times spoke with attorney Milt Silverman, who has
represented the plaintiffs since the suit was filed in 1999. He concluded that because the Appeals Court had already in effect found the police liable, all that remained for a jury was to set a price.
He declined to say how much he was seeking, but the press assumes a multimillion dollar figure, particularly since the police and their insurers have refused to settle for over a decade.
One question is likely to forever remain unanswered. Would the police
have persisted with their prolonged interrogations if their suspicions had not been influenced by the wrong results of voice stress analysis?
While voice stress analysis can be shown to be an effective interrogation
tool, believing in the “test” results can lead to serious problems. ◘