Advances in sciences and technology in recent years have significantly altered the prism through which evidence in criminal cases is viewed.
D.C. criminal defense attorneys know the technology used to prove or disprove an alleged crime has shifted light years with the advent of DNA and other sciences.
Now, new technology has taken central stage in a Maryland murder case involving one Army Ranger accused of killing another. The defendant in the case has long contended his friend's death was a result of suicide.
His defense team says they are now able to prove it with MRI brain scan technology.
It's similar to a lie detector test in that it relies on biological measurements taken during questioning. However, lie detector tests, while sometimes used by police in the course of their investigations, are rarely used in criminal courts because they have been deemed flawed and largely unreliable. In other words, a person who is nervous about the testing may produce a false positive, while someone who is a cold stone liar could potentially pass with ease, say scientists.
The defense team in this case says that the technology has advanced, and that brain waves produce a more accurate result. In this case, it's a result that indicates he's telling the truth.
However, judges have yet to allow such evidence into the courtroom. This case was no exception, with the Circuit Court judge ruling that although the evidence was "fascinating," jurors wouldn't be allowed to see it. He based that decision primarily on the fact that scientists have yet to come to a consensus about the device's accuracy.
This technology was originally developed to study Alzheimer's patients. However, some neuroscientists say that using the scans of brain activity, they can tell with quite a bit of accuracy whether or not a person is being deceptive. The MRI measures not just a brain's structure, but it's activity as well. The test conductor will compare scans of the brain when the subject is purposely lying to those when the person purports to be telling the truth.
The defendant in this case is facing what will be his second trial, after an appellate court tossed his earlier conviction for the 2006 slaying of his fellow soldier, with whom he served a tour in Afghanistan and shared an apartment.
Prosecutors allege the two were drinking and smoking pot together and then went to a nearby VFW pool hall. Shortly before 1 a.m., the defendant called 911, sobbing that he had found his roommate in a pool of blood, shot in the head.
Detectives reportedly found the defendant covered in blood, and found the deceased soldier's body in a chair in front of the television, Oddly, though, they found no gun. The defendant then gave conflicting accounts of what occurred (which is not entirely shocking, considering the two had been abusing a number of substances).
Following his conviction and appeal, prosecutors are preparing for another trial. The defendant and his lawyers insist that he should be allowed to present the brain scan results. They say it's not the core of their case, but it is a piece of the puzzle that jurors should be allowed to see.
Independent studies have been conducted in at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and in Hong Kong put accuracy rates of the test of between 90 and 100 percent.