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Supreme Court of Hawai’i Rules Presenting Falsified Polygraph Results Is Coercive Per Se

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Hawai’i ruled that when police communicate a deliberate falsehood about the results of a polygraph test during interrogation the falsehood is an extrinsic falsehood that is coercive per se, and any subsequent inculpatory statements are inadmissible at trial.

Keith T. Matsumoto was the state coordinator for wrestling for the Hawai’i High School Athletic Association. He was arrested at a wrestling tournament at Farrington High School after a female student (identified as “CW”) accused him of grabbing her buttocks.

Matsumoto was given a polygraph examination by Detective Allan Kuaana. Kuaana told him the test would have two possible outcomes: pass or fail. Kuaana also told Matsumoto that immediately after the examination he would be told the results.

During the test, Matsumoto denied touching CW’s buttocks. At the test’s conclusion, Kuaana told Matsumoto he did not pass the test. Matsumoto was then subjected to further interrogation by Kuaana and by Detective Kim McCumsey.

Finally, Matsumoto stated that if he touched CW’s buttocks, it would have been a “‘good job’ pat on the butt.”

Matsumoto was charged with sexual assault in the third degree. He filed a motion to suppress all statements he had made during and after the polygraph test on the grounds that Kuaana had made a false statement to him about the results of the test.

At the hearing on the motion, Kuaana testified that the results of the test were inconclusive because Matsumoto didn’t score low enough to fail, but he also didn’t score high enough to pass.

Kuaana further testified that his statement to Matsumoto wasn’t false. That is, Kuaana did not tell Matsumoto he had failed the test but had told him he had not passed the test, which was technically correct.

Kuaana also testified that Matsumoto appeared to be in disbelief and was calm in a way that indicated he could not believe he was in the position he was in.

McCumsey testified that during her interrogation Matsumoto “agreed” he grabbed CW’s buttocks “because the opportunity was there.” However, she also testified that Matsumoto demonstrated his action with a slapping-type motion and not a grabbing motion.

The trial court denied the suppression motion, and Matsumoto was convicted at the ensuing trial. The Intermediate Court of Appeals (“ICA”) affirmed, and the Hawai’i Supreme Court granted further review.

The Court observed “[t]he constitutional right against self-incrimination prevents the prosecution’s use of a defendant’s extrajudicial admissions of guilt where such admissions are the product of coercion.” State v. Kelekolio, 849 P.2d 58 (Haw. 1993). The reasons for barring coerced admissions include “the inherent untrustworthiness of involuntary confessions, a desire that criminal proceedings be accusatorial rather than inquisitorial, and a desire that the police do not become law breakers in the process of achieving society’s valid law enforcement objectives.” Id.

When police use deliberate falsehoods extrinsic to the facts of the alleged offense, which are of a type reasonably likely to procure an untrue statement or to influence an accused to make a confession regardless of guilt, they will be regarded as coercive per se. Id. Examples of extrinsic falsehoods include assurances of divine salvation upon confession, promises of mental health treatment or treatment in a nice hospital instead of prison in exchange for a confession, or implying that a confession cannot be used against the defendant at trial. A polygraph is a scientific instrument that purports to accurately determine whether the subject of the test is telling the truth. United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303 (1998).

The Court referenced academic articles warning of the dangers posed by presenting falsified polygraph results to suspects. An examinee who has not lied does not expect to be given falsified polygraph test results from the police and “experiments have shown that ... counterfeit test results ... can substantially alter subjects’ ... beliefs, perceptions of other people, behaviors toward other people, emotional states, ... self-assessments, [and] memories for observed and experienced events.” Saul M. Kassin et. al, Police-Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations, 34 L. & Hum. Behav. 3 (2010). False polygraph results are “bad practices” that produce both true and false confessions. Klara Stephens, Misconduct and Bad Practices in False Confessions: Interrogations in the Context of Exonerations, 11Ne. U. L. Rev. 593 (2019).

The Court concluded that providing falsified polygraph test results to a suspect as part of a custodial interrogation is an extrinsic falsehood that poses an unacceptable risk of inducing an untrue statement or influencing an accused to make a confession regardless of guilt. State v. Cabagbag, 277 P.3d 1027 (Haw. 2012). Thus, inculpatory statements elicited during a custodial interrogation from a suspect who has previously been given falsified polygraph results in the interrogation process are coercive per se and are inadmissible at trial. Kelekolio.

Because Kuaana had told Matsumoto that only pass/fail results were possible and then further told Matsumoto he did not pass, Kuaana provided falsified polygraph test results.

Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgments of the ICA and the trial court and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion. See: State v. Matsumoto, 2019 Haw. LEXIS 291 (2019).

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