Narcoanalysis is a tool which is being used by investigating agencies in criminal cases, as an interrogation technique. It was first used in 2002, in the Godhra carnage probe. During the Telgi scam, the use of narcoanalysis came under the scanner, and recently it was used in the Arushi murder investigation. The scientific validity of the test has been questioned by medical professionals, and the legal validity has also been debated in several international and national cases.
Narcoanalysis is based on the principle that a person is able to lie using his imagination and, therefore, under the influence of the test the capacity of his imagination is blocked, by leading the person into a semiconscious state. Hence whatever the person says is restricted to the facts that he is aware of. Narcoanalysis involves the use of certain barbiturates, using sodium pentothal. It is used in conjunction with other tests – polygraph, or the lie detector test, psychological profiling and brain mapping.
The validity of the test however is disputed. Some medical professionals and doctors say that the test is quite accurate and is a peaceful method for extracting the truth from the accused. Others, point out that under the influence of the drug, the accused has garbled speech and tends to talk about fantasies, and labours under delusions. For example, a person may talk about a crime s/he fantasized about committing, even if they actually have not done it. Their state resembles that of a person in delirium, so these tests are highly inaccurate. There is no way of distinguishing reality from fantasy. P. Chandra Sekharan, President of the Forensic Science Society of India, says that not only are narcoanalysis tests unreliable, they may also lead to dangerous side effects. The truth serum substance, sodium pentothal is the same substance that in larger dosages is used to induce a deep coma like state for executions by lethal injection in USA. A large dose of the drug is lethal; a test could result in coma or even death. It can be difficult to determine the correct dose of the drug.
In the United States of America, the New Jersey Supreme Court banned the use of narcoanalysis in Pitts. V. State for lack of scientific reliability. In India as well, the use of narcoanalysis has been questioned in courts. The main argument against Narcoanalysis is that it is infringement of the fundamental right under Article 20(3) of the Constitution, which provides for a privilege against self incrimination. It can also be construed as violative of the human rights of privacy, and the right to health.
At the same time, Narcoanalysis is an invaluable tool for investigators. Since the results of the test cannot solely be used to prove the guilt of the accused, advocates of narcoanalysis point out that it is not violative of the right against self incrimination. Statements made under the test have to be corroborated by further evidence. The most laborious part of a criminal investigation is extracting information from an uncooperative source, and therefore narcoanalysis provides a simply, non violent method of finding out the truth. In a world where until quite recently, torture was employed in criminal cases, perhaps narcoanalysis is a simple, civilized way of conducting criminal investigation.