Polygraph Examination Is An ‘Interrogation’ Covered By Bill Of Rights

Davin Miller is a police officer with the City of Gonzales, Louisiana. Miller was the subject of an internal investigation stemming from an alleged off-duty altercation with his wife and her father. The Police Chief interviewed Miller on August 15, 2013.

After the interview, the Chief ordered Miller to take a polygraph examination, which was administered by a special agent of the United States Secret Service. The Chief later fired Miller, citing in part the results of the polygraph examination.

Miller sued, contending his termination violated Louisiana’s statutory Peace Officer Bill of Rights. At the core of Miller’s suit was the contention that the polygraph examination was an “interrogation” covered by the Bill of Rights, and that because he was not allowed to record the questioning during the polygraph and because he was denied the assistance of counsel during the polygraph, his termination could not stand.

The Louisiana Court of Appeals agreed with Miller, and ordered his termination reversed and declared an “absolute nullity.” The Court noted that “the questions asked during the polygraph examination were to determine the truthfulness of statements made by Miller during the Chief’s questioning of him on August 15, 2013. The relevant polygraph questions, which were transcribed and made part of the polygraph report, are as follows: (1) Are you lying about how you got that injury to your arm?; and (2) Are you lying about how you got that injury to your arm on that date?

“The Bill of Rights does not define the term ‘interrogation.’ However, based in part on the definition in Black’s Law Dictionary, we have previously found that the term contemplates the formal or systematic questioning of a law enforcement officer.

“Initially, we recognize that a polygraph examination by its very nature is a formal or systematic questioning. Indeed, Black’s Law Dictionary incorporates the word ‘interrogation’ in its definition of ‘polygraph,’ which it defines as ‘a piece of equipment used to determine whether someone is lying by measuring and recording involuntary physiological changes in the human body, esp. sudden changes in the heart rate, during interrogation.’ Further, the polygraph examination was conducted prior to any disciplinary determination being made and took place during the investigative phase of the internal inquiry.

“While it is true that the polygraph examination consisted of only two questions and Miller was not prejudiced by the results of the examination, the questions asked of Miller were directly related to his alleged misconduct and were clearly asked to test the veracity of information obtained to support the imposition of discipline. For these reasons, we are constrained to conclude that the polygraph examination of Miller constituted an ‘interrogation’ under the Bill of Rights.

“Further, given that Miller’s request to record the polygraph examination was denied, the disciplinary action cannot be maintained. We recognize that the penalty of absolute nullity compels a harsh result. However, the language of the Bill of Rights is clear. Any relief from the harshness of this penalty must come from the Legislature.”

Miller v. City of Gonzales, 2016 WL 4563729 (La. App. 2016).