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46 J. Crim. L. Criminology & Police Sci. 259 (1955-1956)
Truth Serum

handle is hein.journals/jclc46 and id is 273 raw text is: TRUTH SERUM

John M. Macdonald, M.D. is Assistant Medical Director of the Colorado Psycho-
pathic Hospital, University of Colorado Medical Center, Denver. This article is based
upon experience he has gained as a state employed psychiatrist and as a consulting
psychiatrist to the District Courts of Colorado, and represents a comprehensive analy-
sis of the value of truth serum in criminal investigation.-EDITOR.
Much publicity has been given to the use of drugs in obtaining confessions from
suspected criminals. The term truth serum suggests the existence of a drug with
the remarkable property of eliciting the truth. The reputation enjoyed by truth se-
rum is based on spectacular newspaper reports rather than on carefully documented
case reports in professional medical or legal journals. The test is sometimes used by
law enforcement officers, but it is doubtful whether it is as useful as popular belief
would suggest. The description truth serum is misleading as the drug used is not a
serum, and it does not always lead to the truth. Formerly scopalamine was used,
but today a barbiturate drug, such as sodium amytal, is usually employed. The test
may not be performed unless the suspect willingly gives his consent. The drug is
injected slowly into a vein in order to induce a relaxed state of mind in which the
suspect becomes more talkative and has less emotional control. The mental state
produced is not unlike that seen in acute alcoholism.
It is well known that a person under the influence of alcohol may reveal informa-
tion which he would not disclose when sober. Barbiturates are preferable to alcohol
because results are obtained in a shorter time, under more uniform conditions which
are easier to control and which are more conducive to satisfactory interrogation.
The intravenous injection of a drug by a physician in a hospital may appear more
scientific than the drinking of large amounts of bourbon in a tavern, but the end
results displayed in the subject's speech may be no more reliable. The drugged per-
son may be just as boastful and untruthful as the alcoholic. The risk of self-incrim-
ination is a potent force motivating the suspect against revealing information which
might lead to his conviction on a criminal charge. It is unlikely that he will reveal
information under drugs unless he is prepared to do so. The test is by no means re-
liable, and when used indiscriminately, it may cloud rather than clarify criminal
investigation. It is important to be familiar with the limitations of this technique
which is variously called truth serum test, narcosis, and narcoanalysis. The value
of the test will be considered in regard to the innocent suspect, the guilty suspect,
and the suspect who claims loss of memory
It might be thought that no problems would arise from the use of drugs on per-
sons who are, in fact, innocent. Unfortunately, persons under the influence of drugs
are very suggestible and may confess to crimes which they have not committed.

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