Narco Test and the Issue of Consent – UPSC GS2

Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an  “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010  has held.

Various Lie detector tests

(1) Polygraph Test

    • A polygraph test is based on the assumption that physiological responses that are triggered when a person is lying are different from what they would be otherwise.
    • Instruments like cardio-cuffs or sensitive electrodes are attached to the person, and variables such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, change in sweat gland activity, blood flow, etc., are measured as questions are put to them.
    • A numerical value is assigned to each response to conclude whether the person is telling the truth, is deceiving, or is uncertain.
(2) Narcoanalysis
    • Narcoanalysis, by contrast, involves the injection of a drug, sodium pentothal, which induces a hypnotic or sedated state.
    • In such a state, the subject’s imagination is neutralized, and they are expected to divulge information that is true.
    • The drug, referred to as “truth serum” in this context, was used in larger doses as anaesthesia during surgery and is said to have been used during World War II for intelligence operations.

Why these tests are so (in)famous?

    • Investigating agencies seek to employ these tests in the investigation, and are sometimes seen as being a “softer alternative” to torture or “third degree” to extract the truth from suspects.
    • These tests put into consideration the international norms on human rights, the right to a fair trial, and the right against self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution.

Legal status in India

    • In ‘Selvi & Ors vs State of Karnataka & Anr’ (2010), a Supreme Court Bench comprising CJI ruled that no lie detector tests should be administered “except on the basis of the consent of the accused”.
    • Those who volunteer must have access to a lawyer, and have the physical, emotional, and legal implications of the test explained to them by police and the lawyer, the Bench said.
    • It said that the ‘Guidelines for the Administration of Polygraph Test on an Accused’ published by the National Human Rights Commission in 2000, must be strictly followed.
    • The subject’s consent should be recorded before a judicial magistrate, the court said.

What was the latest Judgement?

    • Involuntary administration of narco or lie detector tests is an “intrusion” into a person’s “mental privacy,” a Supreme Court judgment of 2010 has held.
    • The consequences of such tests on “individuals from weaker sections of society who are unaware of their fundamental rights and unable to afford legal advice” can be devastating.
    • It may involve future abuse, harassment and surveillance, even leakage of the video material to the Press for a “trial by media.”
    • Such tests are an affront to human dignity and liberty and have long-lasting effects.
    • “An individual’s decision to make a statement is the product of a private choice and there should be no scope for any other individual to interfere with such autonomy,” the apex court had held.

Legal status of its outcome

    • The results of the tests cannot be considered to be “confessions”, because those in a drugged-induced state cannot exercise a choice in answering questions that are put to them.
    • However, any information or material subsequently discovered with the help of such a voluntarily-taken test can be admitted as evidence, the court said.
    • Thus, if an accused reveals the location of a murder weapon in the course of the test, and police later find the weapon at that location, the statement of the accused will not be evidence, but the weapon will be.

Related Questions:

    • What are the ethical issues associated with the Lie-detection tests?

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