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First, one must understand that there is no such thing as a compulsory polygraph.  As citizens of the United States of America, each of us has rights which are inviolate.  However, there are a number of circumstances which may cause someone to consider the use of a polygraph examination.  That being said, prior to any polygraph examination, one must understand the circumstances as well as the effect that the results of the polygraph may cause. In the United States, there are two primary types of polygraph examinations that someone might consider undergoing.


The first type of polygraph is known as a specific issue examination.  Simply put, the purpose of this type of polygraph is to determine if a particular individual had any knowledge of or participation in a specific event or incident. Polygraph is used as an investigative tool by many law enforcement agencies across the country to aid with investigations.  Properly used, a specific issue polygraph can provide useful information to investigators which can be used to properly focus an investigation on the right suspect, and it can also be used to remove innocent persons from suspicion and scrutiny. A specific issue polygraph can also be used to assess the validity of information provided by witnesses or confidential informants, particularly under exigent circumstances such as terroristic threats, kidnappings, or other possibly violent circumstances.  


The second type of polygraph examination is generally known as a screening polygraph.  It is used by federal, state, and local agencies, as well as corporations involved in national defense for the purpose of personnel security as well as new personnel screening programs. The proper use of the polygraph under these circumstances over many decades has proven to have a demonstrable effect on hiring and retaining individuals who possess higher levels of integrity and honesty.  There are many federal agencies within the Intelligence Community such as the FBI, DEA, USSS, ATF, NSA, CIA and others which use screening polygraphs during the applicant selection process. Many state and local agencies use polygraph for the same reasons.   

Both types of polygraph examinations, the specific issue test as well as the screening examination, are unique. Someone considering seeking employment with a law enforcement agency may be asked to submit to a screening polygraph. A suspect in an armed robbery may be asked to submit to a specific issue examination.  One should never, under any circumstance, submit to a polygraph in the absence of careful consideration of the ramifications of doing so. In some instances the outcome may be desirable, such as obtaining employment, or removing oneself from suspicion if innocent. In others it can mean something significantly less pleasant such as loss of potential employment, retention of employment, or in criminal cases a loss of personal freedom. One should always be cognizant of their ability to answer truthfully all questions asked during any polygraph.


If an attorney who is representing you has asked you to undergo a polygraph examination, it is their responsibility to ensure that your rights are protected.  Still, it would be prudent for you to understand the issue(s) to be examined by means of the polygraph, and to discuss the matter with your attorney prior to the examination.


It is worth repeating that any polygraph is voluntary. You will be asked to sign forms prior to any polygraph.  Read and discuss these forms in detail with your examiner until you are satisfied that you have a clear understanding of what is happening relative to the administration of the polygraph.

Next, get a good night’s rest before the polygraph. A polygraph examination can be long depending on the issue(s) involved. It is not uncommon for a polygraph to last a few hours, and possibly more.  It is of paramount importance that you are attentive during the entire examination. Be sure to get something to eat, and make sure that no outside issues will require your attention or focus. Take all prescribed medications, as they are meant to ensure good health which is beneficial during the polygraph process. Remember that it is normal to experience nervousness, but understand that this will not in any way cause anyone to ever fail a polygraph examination.  It is a lie detection test, not a nervousness test. During a polygraph people who are telling the truth generally experience a reduction in “pre-test jitters” as the polygraph is administered.

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