Neuroscience and the Law

As the years have passed the use of neuroscience technologies in court cases have dramatically increased.  William Moulton Marston early 20th century invention of the polygraph which is also known as the lie detector changed the scape of criminal investigation and court cases.  His polygraph recorded signals like heart rate dips, blood pressure boosts, slowed breathing, and increased sweating to see if a person was telling the truth or lying. However, a major flaw of this system was that many of the things that it tested like heart rate were not caused because the person being interviewed was lying, but because they were feeling pressured sitting in front of a lie director.

Due to the fact that the lie detector is proving to be ineffective courts and lawyers are trying to find better ways to solve cases. One such technology is the use of brain scans.  The utilization of something called fMRI provides measures of neural activity in brain areas.  They help scan the brain to see if the person tested is attempting to conceal some type of information.  This type of test was used in the United States v. Semrau case. However, the magistrate argued that this test was ineffective as it could not tell the result of any single question, but only if the defendant answered a majority of the questions truthfully.  This shows how the bran scanning technology is still not good enough to use in a major court case.  One positive thing the  brain scanning technology shows us that the brain truly has the capability to suppress information and that there are ways to see if people are lying.  However, this will never come to use unless the technology is perfected.  While it can tell if a majority of questions were answered objectively and truthfully, in a court case were one detail can make the difference it is essential to know every little detail.  How could the judge tell if the most critical question was answered correctly? What if that question literally asked if the defendant murdered the victim? Personally, I recommend that this technology should not be used.  It is better and more effective at this time to use human judgment, because there is not much room for error.  There are also too many arguments that could be formulated against these neurological methods.

Another case that involved neurological technologies is the case against Brian Dugan who was charged for murder multiple times.  A neuroscientist named Kent Kiehl decided to use fMRI technology for the first time in order to prove to help Dugan avoid the death penalty and show that he committed his crimes because he was a psychopath with uncontrollable killer instincts. Kiehl truly wanted to help Dugan out because he was interested in researching about people with psychological problems, but Dugan’s lawyers used Kiehl’s evidence for more selfish reasons.  The court case ended up with Dugan getting the death penalty, but Kiehl was able to utilize his technology to prove that Dugan truly had severe psychological problems.  These tests tell us that the brain truly can have defects leading to this maladies.  However, even though this technology can be useful it may not be the best avenue. In cases like Dugan prosecutors always can have the argument that actions and not brain anatomy should decide if someone is guilty or not.  The question will always rise whether anatomical tests should be the true judge of these court cases.


As time passes and technology improves more cases like this one will pop.  I personally recommend that we should continue going on and solving these cases like we are now.  Neurological technology will just further complicate, corrupt, and harm the political system until it is refined to perfection.

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