In 2009, evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was submitted to a US court for the first time. The defence for Brian Dugan, a convicted murderer and rapist, suggested that brain scans demonstrating blood flow abnormalities more common in psychopathy should be viewed as a mitigating circumstance when choosing a sentence for his crime. Despite this defence, he was sentenced to death.
Dugan's case was the first use of fMRI in court. However, a range of neuroimaging technologies have had applications in criminal law. They have been used to demonstrate injury, to suggest diminished responsibility for crimes on the basis of brain abnormalities and, most recently, touted as potential truth detectors. This article first describes some notable cases involving neuroimaging, and then considers some possible technical and ethical concerns about the new 'mind reading' machines. Read more »