Monday, May 31, 2010

Law Review Articles: Neuroimaging; false confessions

Brown, T., & Murphy, E. (2010). THROUGH A SCANNER DARKLY: FUNCTIONAL NEUROIMAGING AS EVIDENCE OF A CRIMINAL DEFENDANT'S PAST MENTAL STATES. Stanford Law Review, 62(4), 1119-1208.
As with phrenology and the polygraph, society is again confronted with a device that the media claims is capable of reading our minds. Functional magnetic resonance imaging ("fMRI"), along with other types of functional brain imaging technologies, is currently being introduced at various stages of a criminal trial as evidence of a defendant's past mental state. This Article demonstrates that functional brain images should not currently be admitted as evidence into courts for this purpose. Using the analytical framework provided by Federal Rule of Evidence 403 as a threshold to a Daubert/Frye analysis, we demonstrate that, when fMRI methodology is properly understood brain images are only minimally probative of a defendant's past mental states and are almost certainly more unfairly prejudicial than probative on balance. Careful and detailed explanation of the underlying science separates this Article from others, which have tended to paint fMRI with a gloss of credibility and certainty for all courtroom-relevant applications. Instead we argue that this technology may present a particularly strong form of unfair prejudice in addition to its potential to mislead jurors and waste the court's resources. Finally, since fMRI methodology may one day improve such that its probative value is no longer eclipsed by its extreme potential for unfair prejudice, we offer a nonexhaustive checklist that judges and counsel can use to authenticate functional brain images and assess the weight these images are to be accorded by fact finders.


Garrett, B. L. (2010). THE SUBSTANCE OF FALSE CONFESSIONS. Stanford Law Review, 62(4), 1051-1118.

A puzzle is raised by cases of false confessions: How could an innocent person convincingly confess to a crime? Postconviction DNA testing has now exonerated over 250 convicts, more than forty of whom falsely confessed to rapes and murders. As a result, there is a new awareness that innocent people falsely confess, often due to psychological pressure placed upon them during police interrogations. Scholars increasingly examine the psychological techniques that can cause people to falsely confess and document instances of known false confessions. This Article takes a different approach, by examining the substance of false confessions, including what was said during interrogations and how the confession statements were then litigated at trial and postconviction. Doing so sheds light on the phenomenon of confession contamination. Not only can innocent people falsely confess, but all except two of the exonerees studied were induced to deliver false confessions with surprisingly rich, detailed, and accurate information. We now know that those details could not have likely originated with these innocent people, but rather must have been disclosed to them, most likely during the interrogation process. However, our constitutional criminal procedure does not regulate the postadmission interrogation process, nor do courts evaluate the reliability of confessions. This Article outlines a series of reforms that focus on the insidious problem of contamination, particularly videotaping interrogations in their entirety, but also reframing police procedures, trial practice, and judicial review. Unless criminal procedure is reoriented towards the reliability of the substance of confessions, contamination of facts may continue to go undetected, resulting in miscarriages of justice.

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