CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, November 20, 2006

Truth Serum: Still a Myth If there is a "truth serum" that works, it is a secret that nobody is giving up.

The debate earlier this year on interrogation techniques in the war on terrorism raised anew a question that goes back at least 2,000 years. Is there something you can give a person that will make him tell the truth?

In the 21st century, however, the answer appears to be: No. There is no pharmaceutical compound today whose proven effect is the consistent or predictable enhancement of truth-telling.

For the record, spokesmen for the Army medical research command, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the CIA say there is no work underway on truth serums.

Whether such a substance could ever be used legally is a question some legal scholars believe is still open. "In the United States, no law at either the state or national level makes the use of truth serum a crime per se," Jason R. Odeshoo wrote in the Stanford Law Review in 2004.

Information gotten through drug-aided interviews would not be allowed in a trial because of the Constitution's privilege against self-incrimination, but it might be legal to use truth serum "solely for intelligence-gathering purposes," he argued. Similarly, while the Geneva Conventions forbid its use against prisoners of war, if terrorism suspects aren't considered POWs the conventions wouldn't block it, he wrote. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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