Illinois Court Rejects Polygraph Examinations In All Law Enforcement Investigations

Michelle F. Kelley is a corrections officer employed by the Kane County, Illinois Sheriff’s Department. Kelley was suspended without pay for 120 days for insubordination because she refused to comply with a superior officer’s order that she submit to a polygraph examination.

In 1983, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that polygraph examination results were inadmissible in police disciplinary hearings. The following year, the Illinois Legislature enacted what was known as the Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act (Act), which prohibited employers from requiring “peace officers” to submit to polygraph examinations in disciplinary investigations.

The Department argued that since corrections officers are not “peace officers” under Illinois law, the passage of the Act was an implicit decision by the Legislature that corrections officers could be subjected to polygraph examinations.

The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the Department’s arguments and overturned Kelley’s suspension. The Court quoted from the 1983 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court:

“It is enough to say that in holding that admission of stipulated-to polygraph evidence at a criminal trial constituted error, we recognized that the process of accurately recording the instrument’s results and then correctly interpreting those results has not reached a level of sophistication that makes it generally more probative than prejudicial. While the rules of evidence are not as rigidly applied at an administrative hearing, such a relaxation of rules cannot abrogate the right to a just, fair and impartial hearing. The correct rule is that polygraph evidence is not reliable enough to be used as substantive evidence in an administrative proceeding before the board.”

The Court believed the Legislature’s adoption of the Act was irrelevant to the issue of whether polygraph examinations could be used in a disciplinary investigation. As the Court described: “The Sheriff contends that the plaintiff is asking us to encroach upon the legislative function by giving County corrections officers the right to refuse a polygraph examination despite the fact that the General Assembly has not chosen to give them that right. The Sheriff is correct that our decision here adds to the protection provided by the Act – we have acknowledged that the Act applies only to peace officers, not to corrections officers.

“However, in drafting the Act, the Legislature included no language indicating that the protection from mandatory polygraph examinations should be limited to that protection explicitly provided in that section. Indeed, the Sheriff does not argue that in enacting the Act the General Assembly intended to preempt any and all judicial regulation of the administrative disciplinary process applicable to public employees other than peace officers, or to limit the natural reach of our Supreme Court’s prior decision. We hold that the protection here comes not from the statute but rather from our Supreme Court’s decision and, as such, we rely not on the plain-language-statutory-interpretation rule but rather the rule of stare decisis.”

Kelley v. Sheriff’s Merit Commission of Kane County, 2007 WL 1192135 (Ill. App. 2007).

This article appears in the July 2007 issue