As I watched Donovan McNabb and my beloved Eagles lose yet another NFL Championship game, I was deluged by promos for Fox's New Television Show "Lie To Me." http://www.fox.com/lietome/ The show features one of my favorite actors Tim Roth (of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" fame) as Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert at detecting whether a person is lying by analyzing their eye, facial, and other involuntary body movements. Lightman fancies himself as a human lie detector machine and the promos show scenes of him and the others he works with detecting lies during police interrogations. It's a fascinating premise for a television show and has great potential to be a hit but does it have the potential to mislead the public and increase the risk of wrongful convictions? Perhaps. There are a number of law enforcement officers who believe that they are human lie detector machines. (For a recent example, see Rick Firstman and Jay Salpeter's excellent new book about the Marty Tankleff case, A Criminal Injustice, where Detective James McCready, the interrogator who obtained Marty's confession to murdering his parents, claims that he is better at detecting lies than a lie detector) http://www.acriminalinjustice.com/. They make snap judgments about a suspect's innocence or guilt based on their analysis of a suspect's non-verbal responses to questions. These snap judgments often lead interrogators to launch into highly confrontational interrogations and to refuse to take no for an answer from a suspect. Such tactics can and do lead to false confessions. The problem is that these judgments are often wrong. Signs of nervousness are mistaken for signs of deception. And even when they are correct, the fact that a suspect is being deceptive about one thing does not mean he is guilty of committing the crime he is questioned about. Study after study of the lie-detecting ability of officers shows that while they are extremely confident in their ability to detect deception, especially if they have received training, they are not much better than the average person at detecting deception -- perhaps a little better than chance. Even if the best interrogators were able to detect deception 80% of the time, a 20% error rate would be intolerable and would lead to massive numbers of wrongful convictions. Interestingly, there is some common ground between some of these experts at human lie detection and advocates for the wrongfully convicted. Dr. Paul Ekman, whose work is the basis for "Lie to Me," appears to be a strong supporter of the need to require electronic recording of interrogations. In "Last Call," an October 14, 2008 Op-ed in the New York Times in which Op-ed editors asked a few writers and thinkers what questions they wanted Senators McCain and Obama to answer at their final debate, Dr. Ekman wrote: "Senator Obama helped pass a law in Illinois that requires the police to make audio or videotapes of interrogations of murder suspects. Would either of you require federal law-enforcement agencies to record all interrogations of witnesses as well as suspects in felony cases? And would you urge Congress to encourage recordings by state and local police departments?"