As with phrenology and the polygraph, society is again confronted with a device that the media claims is capable of reading our minds. Functional magnetic resonance imaging ("fMRI"), along with other types of functional brain imaging technologies, is currently being introduced at various stages of a criminal trial as evidence of a defendant's past mental state. This Article demonstrates that functional brain images should not currently be admitted as evidence into courts for this purpose. Using the analytical framework provided by Federal Rule of Evidence 403 as a threshold to a Daubert/Frye analysis, we demonstrate that, when fMRI methodology is properly understood, brain images are only minimally probative of a defendant's past mental states and are almost certainly more unfairly prejudicial than probative on balance. Careful and detailed explanation of the underlying science separates this Article from others, which have tended to paint fMRI with a gloss of credibility and certainty for all courtroom-relevant applications. Instead, we argue that this technology may present a particularly strong form of unfair prejudice in addition to its potential to mislead jurors and waste the court's resources. Finally, since fMRI methodology may one day improve such that its probative value is no longer eclipsed by its extreme potential for unfair prejudice, we offer a nonexhaustive checklist that judges and counsel can use to authenticate functional brain images and assess the weight these images are to be accorded by fact finders.

 

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