EEG leads to murder conviction

Wired UK has a fantastic investigative article concerning a recent case in India, where, for the first time, an ‘EEG lie detector’ was used to convict a 23-year-old woman of murder.

Aditi Sharma was described as being in a love triangle and her ex-boyfriend died through arsenic poisoning. She maintained it was suicide but the prosecution successfully argued that her and her new boyfriend murdered the ex. The judge apparently felt that the EEG was decisive and revealed ‘experiential knowledge’ which proved her to be guilty.

The general idea does have a scientific basis, but its not widely considered to be anything except a research tool because its never been tested thoroughly enough or proved to be reliable enough to form the basis of legal evidence.

The research version is called the guilty knowledge or concealed knowledge test and is based on the fact that, on average, recognising something you’ve seen before has a distinct EEG waveform when compared to seeing something completely new.

The idea is that the investigator can show you things from the crime scene and just ‘read off’ your brain’s electrical activity and infer whether you were there or not. The technology described in the Indian case apparently uses a technique where statements are read out to the accused, although this is not a common format.

It is currently not admissible as evidence in court, but as the Wired UK article reveals, a similar technology has now been turned into a minor industry in India and there is a shocking acceptance by the legal system that the technology is a genuine ‘lie detector’ – way beyond what anyone has shown reliably in the lab.

The laboratory of the Directorate of Forensic Science in Mumbai has been running Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) tests on criminal suspects for two years. Business is good: when Wired visits, another room is being added to accommodate a second EEG machine, which sits covered in bubble wrap. ‚ÄúWe consider the brain as a computer, where information is stored and can be retrieved,‚Äù explains Sunny Joseph, the lab‚Äôs 33-year-old assistant chemical analyser. The psychology department has two other staff members ‚Äì both in their twenties, both rushed off their feet, with case after case being sent by the courts. ‚ÄúReferral rates have been really high,‚Äù Joseph adds. ‚ÄúWe do possibly 15 cases a month.‚Äù A growing heap of brown-foldered case reports sit in the corner…

A colleague of Joseph’s later points out that brain-imaging allows an overstretched police force to speed up the conviction process by eliminating innocent suspects from their enquiries and by corroborating evidence. That is why Mumbai is not the only Indian city to have invested in BEOS technology. The government’s forensic science directorate in Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, has been using it since 2003 and has now tested 163 subjects in 88 criminal cases. Support came directly from India’s chief forensic scientist, Dr MS Rao. “The technique has great potentiality to become an infallible tool in crime investigation,” he wrote in a paper presented to the All-India Forensic Science Conference in January. “It can become a revolutionary technique like DNA fingerprinting if its evidential strength and judicial acceptability are established.” A third such facility opens soon in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.

The young lady accused of murder, Aditi Sharma, has apparently been sentenced to life imprisonment on the basis of the technology, although I’ve not been able to find out if there has been an appeal since her sentencing in June.

Link to article ‘The brain police: judging murder with an MRI’.

Full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor to Wired UK and have never been EEG lie-detected.

3 Comments

  1. Jennifer R. Ewing
    Posted November 17, 2009 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    The Discovery Channel, here in the U.S., has a series called The New Detectives: Case Studies in Forensic Science. One of today’s episodes (they’re all in reruns now; I don’t think they’ve run any new episodes in years, alas) talked about “the science of ‘brain fingerprinting’ “. Apparently a scientist did a study with some FBI agents-in-training similar to what you’ve described above. They showed the trainees images of things which would only be significant to an FBI agent (what those things were, the show didn’t say), and checked the trainees’ responses to see how they reacted. As of the show’s original airing, about five or ten years ago, the technique “showed promise”. I don’t think it’s ever been used as evidence in an American court, though.

  2. neuroscribe
    Posted November 18, 2009 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    This is a little scary, the ethical implications of this alone are enough to cause serious concern let alone the tenuous science it is based on. The many other factors that could have caused the same reaction in the womans brain during the testing are alarmingly ignored and further reading of the article leads me to think that Champadi Raman Mukundan may have a little bit of a god complex:
    “‚ÄúThey are not in conflict,‚Äù Mukundan replies sharply. He interrupts an attempt to challenge him: ‚ÄúI found that there is no conflict.‚Äù”
    I hope the comment at the bottom of the article is true and that the high court threw this evidence out.

  3. anu
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I think this as appropriate post to share my suffering or knowledge about one dangerous technology. I wonder whether this technology will be with our army or not but some how because of some politicians and some tv people, this technology is been handed to some normal but some very evil people. And to let their evilness out they are using this technology against some innocents and making them suffer severely. I am one of the victim. I have been tortured since 5 years.

    If no one comes forward to research about this technology you will not believe what things can happen:

    “Many women like me will be tortured by dangerous rich people”

    “They can know our thoughts – and they can change our thoughts….that’s true – we can never know how that effects our life”;
    “They can know different people thoughts by targeting two persons of same home. And can torture one person when they make sure other person is not paying attention to them.”;

    “They can know our passwords, mail passwords, credit card passwords, online banking passwords, atm passwords – and if they do we

    may loose many things even our friends cause if they know our mail passwords they can mail anything to our friends by knowing out thoughts too.”;
    “If this technology is used by rich who got turned evil, they can reverse your life. Which in my life happening.”;

    “And if these rich people use our neighbours to have a look on us, we cannot even beleive that they can make you mentally ill. as they can know every thought of a person and every story of our life. They can use those things even those are not big things in your life, they will make you think those small things as big one and incept your thinking and make you mentally ill or they can even make you commit suicide.”

    “They can make the targeted person loss everything – health, family, money and everything”

    I beg if any one know about this type technology/equipment please post it. Or please tell how to prevent it..


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