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Lie to Me

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Image: Simon Kneebone

By Michael Cook

Will brain scans revolutionise our legal system?

Michael Cook is editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

On 12 June 2008, 24-year-old Aditi Sharma became the first person to be convicted of murder based on a brain scan. The prosecution alleged that the MBA student had organised a tryst with her former fiancé at a McDonald’s in the Indian city of Pune. There she had given him sweets laced with arsenic.

Ms Sharma protested that she was innocent, and the police gave her a novel chance to prove it. She agreed to have an electroencephalogram that would be analysed by software developed by Gujarati neuroscientist Champadi Raman Mukundan. He called it a Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test (BEOS).

Ms Sharma said nothing during the procedure, but when details of the crime were read out, sections of her brain lit up. The prosecutor successfully argued that BEOS analysis proved that she clearly had “experiential knowledge” of the murder. In his judgement, Judge Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi stated that the expertise of the BEOS operator “can in no way be challenged”. He sentenced the young woman to life imprisonment.

The case is still not settled. In September of the same year India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences declared that brain scans were unreliable in criminal cases. Ms Sharma thereupon appealed to the high court, complaining that her conviction had been based on “bad science”. She was released on bail — although it may be years...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.