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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs chief forensic scientist, Dr MS Rao. ‚ÄúThe technique has great potentiality to become an infallible tool in crime investigation,‚Äù he wrote in a paper presented to the All-India Forensic Science Conference in January. ‚ÄúIt can become a revolutionary technique like DNA fingerprinting if its evidential strength and judicial acceptability are established.‚Äù 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.