News of the WeekScience and the Law

fMRI Lie Detection Fails a Legal Test

Science  11 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5984, pp. 1336-1337
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5984.1336-a

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Summary

Lie-detection technology that uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of brain activity is not yet ready for use in the courtroom, a federal magistrate judge in Tennessee decided last week. Defense attorneys for Lorne Semrau, a psychologist accused of defrauding Medicare and other health-benefit providers, had sought to introduce fMRI brain scans to show that their client had no intention of cheating the government and other insurers. But after a pretrial hearing in mid-May that featured testimony from scientists on both sides of the issue, Magistrate Judge Tu Pham concluded that the scans don't measure up to the federal courts' standards for scientific evidence. Pham's 39-page report is the most formal legal opinion yet on this controversial technology, and although other courts don't have to follow suit, legal experts say it is likely to be influential.