PORTLAND, Maine — Well-known former defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey told Portland reporters Wednesday expanded use of polygraph testing in Maine could cut the state’s prison population in half.

Bailey joined Scarborough Police Department Detective and Maine Polygraph Association President Donald Blatchford at a news conference aimed at promoting both the use of the interview technique in criminal cases and a three-day conference to be held on the subject next month in Saco.

Bailey said the conference will be the “most extensive seminar ever held in the United States” on polygraph testing, and is expected to attract lawyers, judges, police and corrections officials from all over the northeast region.

Bailey grew to celebrity status for his role in a number of high-profile cases around the country, including those of Ohio doctor Sam Sheppard, newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and former professional football player O.J. Simpson.

But the famed former defense attorney has run into legal trouble of his own during the past decade. He was denied admission to the Maine Bar in January, after having been disbarred in Massachusetts and Florida several years ago for what the latter state’s supreme court found was attorney misconduct in the trial of an accused marijuana dealer.

In Portland on Wednesday, Bailey said the polygraph test — often called a “lie detector test,” although he said the term is inaccurate — is “woefully” underutilized in Maine.

“This very simple, and not very expensive, technique can save Maine law enforcement officials a lot of grief,” Bailey told reporters. “The police spend a lot of time interviewing liars and chasing false suspects.”

During criminal investigations, polygraph testing can be used often, not necessarily to pinpoint the guilty party, but to rule out suspects and clear clutter in the case, he said. Bailey said that while individuals who “show deception” on a polygraph test cannot be determined definitively to be lying — partial truths, among other responses, could set off the device without being outright false, he said — the test “can help prove when somebody is telling the truth.”

“If you get a [‘no deception indicated’ response], you should be off the list [of suspects for a crime],” he said. “If you don’t, we would just ask you some more questions.”

Bailey also said extensive and regular polygraph usage in Maine would cut down dramatically on the recidivism in Maine prisons.

“We’ve got a lot of people in the state of Maine’s prisons who don’t need to be there,” he said. “We can control them without supporting them [financially]. … There’s no earthly reason why this type of polygraph supervision would not work in Maine.”

Bailey said the threat of regular polygraph tests has been shown to reduce repeat offenses. In states where the tests are used to regularly interview sex offenders after release, he said, repeat offense rates dropped from as high as 70 percent to as low as 19 percent.

According to seminar coordinator Mark Teceno, the Maine Legislature in 2004 passed a law requiring polygraph testing to be part of the post-release treatment for sex offenders in the state. But Teceno said the testing is still not frequent or regular enough, and he added the measure should be expanded for use with individuals convicted of other crimes, as well.

Bailey said he believes those steps would cut Maine’s general inmate population from about 2,000 people to about 1,000 — with the difference from inmates released early under “polygraph supervision” and those who are deterred from committing repeat offenses because of the testing.

“If I’m right, I’d be willing to go on every single one of your stations and say, ‘Nyah, nyah, na-nyah, nyah,’” he said. “If I have to eat crow, well, I’ve got a strong stomach.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.