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Two items of recent note about how technology supports – or doesn’t – the judicial process in the United States.
Soon in San Diego there will be the first test of a functional MRI (fMRI) machine in a court case. Defendant’s counsel in the proceeding will introduce evidence from an fMRI scan to indicate that the defendant was telling the truth. Wired Science has the details. In short, the idea is that lying is connected to particular activity in a part of the pre-frontal cortex. This idea has received a share of skepticism from some researchers, and that may determine whether or not such evidence is ruled admissible. For California law, such science-based evidence must be readily accepted in the scientific community before the courts will accept it. At the moment it’s unclear whether the technology will make the move from House to CSI (in TV terms).
In other court related news, judges are now having to deal (H/T Scientific American’s 60 Second Science Blog) with jurors spreading news about their cases during trial via social networking sites like Twitter. Arguably this is an old problem – jurors are supposed to keep their information to themselves, and are supposed to consider only what is admitted in court – augmented by recent technology. Given the added expenses of sequestering a jury (and the challenge of prohibiting such broadcasting and research in any setting), its unclear how the jury system will react to this trend.