Heads Up: How brain mapping tests mind of crime suspects | India News – Times of India

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In the shadowy realm of crime, the human brain isn’t merely a cunning accomplice. It can also be the ultimate snitch. Over the last two decades, ‘Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) profiling’ —also referred to as ‘brain-mapping’ or ‘brain fingerprinting’— has emerged as a forensic tool meant to unlock criminal secrets within the grey matter and crack open a case when traditional investigative methods hit a wall.
Developed by CR Mukundan, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, this non-invasive technique—which harnesses electric signals from the brain—is being used in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat since the mid-2000s to detect a suspect’s involvement in a crime. And in the recent perplexing case of Saraswati Vaidya—the 36-year-old Mira Road resident whose dismembered body parts were discovered after being allegedly butchered and boiled by her 56-year-old live-in partner, Manoj Sane who maintained that Vaidya had poisoned herself— brain mapping might just be the last recourse for baffled authorities to determine whether it was murder or suicide.
So, how does brain mapping aid criminal investigation? “In the absence of an eye witness, BEOS alongside psychological profiling, polygraph, and narco-analysis are of great value in scientific reconstruction of evidence,” explains Dr Rukmani Krishnamurthy, former director of Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Maharashtra and chairperson of a private forensic organisation. During the process, the accused is fitted with a special cap equipped with 32 electrodes placed on the earlobes and various parts of the brain. The individual is then instructed to sit with their eyes closed and silently listen to statements and questions called ‘probes’, recorded on a computer. “An accused is not required to answer questions verbally. Instead, the focus is on retrieving their experiential knowledge related to the crime by detecting electrical activity in the brain,” adds Krishnamurthy.
Forensic psychologist Dr Deepti Puranik describes how crime scenes are reconstructed through auditory or visual ‘probes’ such as ‘I took the knife’ or ‘I cut the body into pieces’, designed to trigger memories of the crime in the accused’s mind. “When the accused remembers these events, there are fluctuations in the electrical patterns in their brain that serve as cues. Innocent individuals, lacking this memory, would not exhibit such brain patterns,” says Puranik who had employed brain mapping in high-profile cases such as the Aarushi Talwar double murder and Malegaon bomb blast cases. “It helped corroborate different pieces of information and offered crucial insights into the investigation, which were vital for collecting evidence presented in court,” she adds.
It was in 2008 that Maharashtra witnessed the first seminal BEOS profiling that provided compelling evidence for two brutal murders and resulted in life sentences for the accused. In the first case, Aditi Sharma, an MBA student and her lover Pravin Khandelwal were convicted for conspiring to poison Sharma’s ex-boyfriend, Udit Bharati, with arsenic-laced ‘prasad’. In the second case, Amin Bhoi, a supari shop employee was declared guilty for hammering his colleague Ramdullar Singh to death while the latter was asleep.
In both the cases, BEOS tests at Kalina’s FSL indicated the involvement of the accused in the murders and were held admissible in sessions courts. The judgement copy in Sharma’s case dedicated 10 pages to brain mapping conducted by the investigators who had read aloud their version of events and used first-person probes like ‘I bought arsenic’.
“While brain mapping doesn’t directly uncover motives or psychological states, skilled forensic psychologists can create probes targeting motives related to revenge, impulsivity or planning that the technique can verify,” explains Puranik.
As per protocol, before a court order is procured for conducting brain mapping tests in a case, a voluntary written consent of the suspect in the presence of a magistrate is needed. However, the idea of ‘voluntary’ is ambiguous, notes criminal psychologist Meghana Srivatsav. “The scientific community has repeatedly stressed on the need to obtain consent without coercion, but we do not know if this is followed,” she says. While BEOS may sound like a mind-reading superhero with its claims of “5% error rate”, it isn’t entirely foolproof. “The published literature on this technique is limited and certain studies have also found that one can learn countermeasures to defy them,” adds Srivastav.
Since its introduction two decades ago, BEOS has often been marred by controversies surrounding ethics, individual rights and its reliability as standalone evidence.
In 2008, a committee at India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) declared that brain scans of criminal suspects were unscientific and warned that they should not be used as evidence in a court of law. In May 2010, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that forcing suspects and witnesses to take brain mapping tests without their consent was unconstitutional and amounted to violation of their right to privacy.
Earlier this month, the SC recognised that psychological tools such as polygraph and brain mapping are a material piece of evidence but cautioned that these tools alone are insufficient to determine guilt in a case. This came in the wake of a petition challenging a Bombay high court order which discharged Hussain Mohammed Shattaf, his wife Waheeda Hussain Shatta and others for the murder of Manmohan Singh Sukhdev Singh Virdi, a Lonavla resident. Despite the inclusion of psychological evaluations, including BEOS profiling, which indicated the husband’s involvement in the murder and revealed his ‘antisocial’ personality, the accused were freed.





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