RELEASE DATE: March 31, 1998

CONTACT: Michael Rushford, President (916) 446-0345



A United States Supreme Court decision released today has rejected a California airman's claim that the military's prohibition against the introduction of polygraph evidence violated his constitutional rights.

"Today's decision in United States v. Scheffer goes far beyond the polygraph issue," said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Attorney Charles Hobson. "It protects state evidence laws, such as rape shield laws and reporter shield laws, from attack on federal constitutional grounds," he added.

The case involves the 1992 military court-martial of Edward G. Scheffer, an airman stationed at March Air Force Base in California. Scheffer was found guilty of passing fraudulent checks, taking illegal drugs and being absent without leave for 13 days. During the court-martial, Scheffer was prohibited from introducing the results of a favorable polygraph examination by military rules of evidence. In 1996 a federal appeals court overturned Scheffer's court-martial announcing that the exclusion of the polygraph evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense.

When the Supreme Court agreed to review that holding, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation filed a "friend of the court" brief arguing that, not only has the polygraph been consistently proven unreliable, the Constitution reserves the authority to determine the admissibility of such evidence to the states (and the military). The appeals court decision, if upheld, would have transferred some or all of that power to the federal courts. This reasoning was evident in the Court's decision.

The Court's decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas states "State and federal governments unquestionably have a legitimate interest in ensuring that reliable evidence is presented to the trier of fact in a criminal trial."

"Another benefit for the states as the result of this decision is its reaffirmance of the right to restrict junk science and other forms of unreliable evidence from introduction in trials," said Mr. Hobson.

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