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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 4
January 27, 2007

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Crime & Punishment

Noida Serial Killing
Need for Narco analysis test

M Shamsur Rabb Khan

NARCO analysis is in the limelight in the context of infamous Nithari village (Noida) serial killings. The two main accused in the Nithari serial killings Mohinder Singh Pandher and Surendra Kohli have undergone narco analysis tests in Gandhinagar in Gujarat. What exactly is this and how does it help investigators? And more importantly are the results of these tests admissible in court? Let us have a look at it.

Epistemologically, the term narco analysis is derived from the Greek word narkç meaning "anaesthesia" or "torpor" and is used to describe a diagnostic and psychotherapeutic technique that uses psychotropic drugs, particularly Barbiturates, which act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and by virtue of this they produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to anesthesia. Synthesized first in 1903, Barbiturates were very popular in the first half of the 20th century, albeit are among the oldest of modern drugs. Three of the most popular Barbiturates, which have been in use in narco analysis are: Sodium Amytal, Pentothal Sodium and Seconbarbital.

In recent times, the police in India have turned to narco analysis in eliciting confession from accused under the influence of drugs, which are supposed to relax a person's defence to the point that he or she reveals the facts or truth that he/she has been trying to conceal in normal circumstances. The person is not in a position to speak up on his own but can answer specific but simple questions. The answers are believed to be spontaneous as a semi-conscious person is unable to manipulate the answers.

Historical perspective
In History of the Criminal Law of England 1883, Sir James Stephens, the English jurist, commented on a grisly example of 'third degree' practised by Indian police, “It is far pleasanter to sit comfortably in the shade, rubbing red pepper in a poor devil's eyes than to go about in the sun hunting up evidence.”

In 1922, Robert House, an obstetrician from Texas, experimented the use of narco analysis in the interrogation of suspected criminals. He arranged to interrogate two prisoners in the Dallas county jail by using scopolamine, whose guilt was almost confirmed. Under the influence of drug, both prisoners denied the crimes for which they had been detained, and upon trial were found not guilty. After the successful experimentation, House concluded that an accused under the influence of drugs cannot lie. The word “Truth Serum” is believed to have appeared first, in the news report of Robert House's experiment, and there, he came to be known as the “Father of Truth Serum.”

However, in the mid-1930s, narco analysis became popular as a result of the discovery of quickly acting barbiturates with short-term effects. The term analysis is used in Pierre Janet's sense of a process that, by means of a partial dissolution of consciousness, undoes the complex syntheses of waking mental life and accesses mental content that is more automatic. Other terms have also been used, such as "narco-synthesis," "chemical psychoanalysis" and "psychosomatic narco analysis etc."

In the narco analysis test, the person's imagination is neutralised by making him semi-conscious. In this state, it becomes difficult for him to lie and his answers would be restricted to facts he is already aware of. When the brain recognises a person or a sound, it generates a particular type of electric wave, which is called P300. Sensors are attached to the head of a person undergoing a P300 test and the subject is seated before a computer monitor. The accused is then shown certain images or made to hear certain sounds. The sensors monitor electrical activity in the brain and register P300 waves, which are generated only if the subject has some connection with the stimulus, in this case pictures or sounds. The dose depends on the age, sex, health and mental state of the person, as these drugs produce a state of intoxication that is remarkably similar to alcohol intoxiation. The procedure was mainly intended for neurotic and psychosomatic patients. However, a wrong dose can result in a person going into a coma, or even death.

Admissibility in the court
Lawyers are divided on whether the results of narco analysis and P300 tests are admissible as evidence in courts, as they claim that confessions made by a semi-conscious person is not admissible in court. A narco analysis test report has some validity but is not totally admissible in court, which considers the circumstances under which it was obtained and assess its admissibility. Results of such tests can be used to get admissible evidence, can be collaborated with other evidence or to support other evidence. But if the result of this test is not admitted in a court, it cannot be used to support any other evidence obtained the course of routine investigation.

In India, narco-analysis was first used in 2002 in the Godhra carnage case. It was also in the news after the famous Arun Bhatt kidnapping case in Gujarat wherein the accused had appeared before NHRC and the Supreme Court of India against undergoing the narco-analysis. It was again in the news in the Telgi stamp paper scam when Abdul Karim Telgi was taken to the test in December 2003.

But doubts have been cast on its reliability and legal validity i.e. admissibility in the court of law. The application of narco-analysis test involves the fundamental question pertaining to judicial matters and human rights. However, the legal position of applying this technique as an investigative aid arises genuine issues like encroachment of an individual's rights, liberties and freedom. Subjecting the accused to undergo the test, as has been done by the investigative agencies in India, is considered by many as a blatant violation of Article 20(3), which says, “No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be witness against himself.”

Though in the case of Telgi, immense amount of information was yielded, but doubts were raised about its value as evidence. The Bombay High Court, in a significant verdict in the case of Ramchandra Reddy and Others v State of Maharashtra, upheld the legality of the use of P300 or Brain Mapping and narco analysis test. The court also said that evidence procured under the effect of narco analysis test is also admissible. However, defence lawyers and human rights activists viewed that narco analysis test was a very primitive form of investigation and third degree treatment, and there were legal lapses in interrogation with the aid of drugs.

With crimes going hi-tech and criminals becoming highly trained professionals, the use of narco analysis by the investigating officials can be very useful, because whereas the conscious mind does not speak out the truth, unconscious may reveal the information, which could provide vital lead in.

The author is working with Consumer Unity & Trust Society, Jaipur, India.


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