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July 31, 2011

Brain Scans as Evidence

The spectrum of possibilities that neuroscience is taking into the world of law is both advantageous and dangerous. What sort of effects will this have when putting a murder suspect on trial? What sort of rights does he have and will the new technologies of neuroscience violate these rights in order to discover the truth behind what is going on? Questions such as this are what lawyers have to take into effect when deciding on whether or not to bring neuroscience into the court room. Not only can it be used for this purpose though, it can help someone plead the insanity defense, it takes into question if someone is willing or not to go through the testing in order to find out the truth, and also measure the maturity of the person on trial and capacity of what is going on.

In the article by Francis Shen and Owen Jones it looks further into what is going through the criminals mind in order to make them murder someone for example. Brain scanning gives the jury a way to look into their mind and see what has made them capable of preforming such an act. According to the administration of justice it is important to look at two things when looking into brain scanning. First what the brain was going through when performing the act. Basically, what was going on in the criminals mind to make them justify what was going to happen. Second it looks how the brain recollects these past events that have happened.

One of the tests used in this article to help tell if someone is lying or not is a fMRI. This stands for a functional magnetic resonance imaging. It is able to 'detect changes in hemodynamic properties of the brain as a subject engages in specific mental tasks (pg.865, Shen and Owen).' It breaks down which regions of the brain are doing what for a specific task and for how long they are working. But several issues have been discovered with this such as a person memorizing a lie and repeating it over and over that it becomes natural to say and therefore the fMRI won't pick up on any sort of difference between it and the truth. This has the possibility of being useful it court and was used in the case of United States v. Semrau.

The case of United States v. Semrau was one of the first cases in which brain scanning was used in order to help decide if Dr.Lorne Semrau was committing Medicare/Medicaid fraud. Over six years they stated that he was aware of inflating payments in order to receive approximately 3 million dollars in fraud. Around this time the first fMRI was being developed and it was used to tell if Dr. Semrau was claiming the truth when he said he did not willingly commit fraud. This test became later ruled out because it wasn't able to satisfy certain standards the judge had set.

As the advances in science continue, brain scanning will be able to lead into areas we have not yet discovered in the scientific realm of possibilities. The article goes into further detail of other challenges that neuroscience is being faced as it tries to enter into the world of law.
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