Almost a century after its inception, the polygraph test remains one of the most fascinating forms of evidence. Firmly entrenched in popular mythology, the polygraph offers the promise of calculating truth and credibility with scientific certainty, a proposition that continues to capture the public’s imagination. At the same time, the polygraph has also been viewed with great trepidation as a flawed and dangerous instrument of oppression. Commonly called a “lie detector,” the polygraph does not actually detect lying; it measures subtle changes in blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and the skin’s resistance to electricity that are thought to result from the effort to deceive. These physical reactions constitute the automatic “fight or flight” response produced by the human body when it is faced with a situation of threat or stress.

In Ohio courts and in courts across America, polygraph evidence has been perhaps the most controversial of all scientific evidence. In fact, critics assert that polygraph tests are not “scientific” at all. Radar, ballistics, breath intoxication devices, and even psychiatric testimony have been far more willingly accepted in our legal system. Whether the polygraph is adequately “reliable” or “scientific” to merit expert testimony in court has been a heated national debate for decades and one that remains largely unresolved today.

This Note considers the current state of polygraph admissibility law in Ohio and nationwide, and examines the recent Ohio case of State v. Sharma, where one judge contradicted state precedent by admitting into evidence the results of a defendant’s three passed polygraphs without the prosecutor’s stipulation. Major arguments for and against expanded polygraph admissibility will be examined. This Note ultimately argues that stipulation should remain the fundamental guideline for Ohio judges, but argues that judges should have the discretion to admit reliable polygraphs without stipulation in exceptional cases. However, in those cases, the opposing party should always have the opportunity to rebut that evidence by retesting the person and presenting its own reliable polygraph evidence. Because polygraph evidence differs significantly from other forms of scientific evidence, this Note suggests that a separate rule of evidence dealing specifically with polygraphs may be useful. In approaching Ohio’s current system of polygraph admissibility with an eye to improvement, it is important to understand Ohio’s current polygraph admissibility law and the evolution of polygraph policy both state and nationwide.