EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To Tell The Truth: Will fMRI Test Results Eventually Be Admissible In Court To Detect Lies?

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has launched a $10 million project to bring lawyers, judges, philosophers, legal scholars, and scientists together to confront the issue of how breakthroughs in neuroscience can be used in the courtroom.

To me, the most intersting part of the article is the claim by at least two companies that they can use a type of brain scan called a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging)  to detect lies with greater accuracy than a polygraph.  The article, however, also notes that there are studies indicating that brain sacns are not yet accurate enough to be used in legal situations.

Of course, the results of polygraph tests are generally inadmissible in American courts, so if the results of a new type of lie detector test are found admissible, it could completely overhaul the legal landscape, especially in criminal trials.

A brief search on Westlaw reveals that no state courts have considered fMRI test results in any context.  A few federal courts, however, have considered fMRI test results. 

In Entertainment Software Association v. Blagojevich, 404 F.Supp.2d 1051 (N.D. Ill. 2005), the court viewed with skepticism fMRI test results indicating the changes that occur in chilcren's brains when they view violence.  I guess that only time (and maybe the Project) will tell whether fMRI test results will gain general acceptance in courts.

-CM

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