Appeals Court OKs Sex Offender Lie Detector Tests, Internet Ban

A federal appeals court ruled that lie detector tests can be used to ensure convicted sex offenders are obeying the rules of their probation and that a ban on Internet use is appropriate for some offenders.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling pertained to Jeffrey A. Johnson, an aerospace engineer and sophisticated computer user who, the court said, had used the Internet to conduct sexually explicit conversations with children from 1995 to 1997.

Johnson had been accused of luring several children to meetings, having sex with two victims under age 18 and arranging to have sex with a third. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and three years probation.

Johnson challenged polygraph testing during his probation on the grounds that it could deprive him of his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and subject him to testing that is unreliable and not reasonably related to sentencing purposes.

U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy in Albany ruled against Johnson but agreed to install safeguards to the polygraph testing process, including a requirement that questions be limited to information necessary for supervision, case monitoring and treatment.

The appeals court said in its ruling Monday that polygraph testing "produces an incentive to tell the truth, and thereby advances the sentencing goals."

The appeals court also upheld the ban on Johnson's Internet use, agreeing with the lower court's finding that Johnson's skills would likely allow him to circumvent software needed for monitoring.

A ban on the Internet would be an external control on Johnson's behavior to substitute for his "deficient internal controls," the court said.

The court said it did not believe a ban was appropriate for every sex offender who has used the Internet, which it said is virtually indispensable these days. It said "a careful and sensitive individualized assessment is always required before such a ban is imposed."

A message seeking comment from Johnson's lawyer was not immediately returned.