In order to subdue individuals without the use of a firearm, police may use a Taser to deliver a 50,000 volt shock to the system. Though this can have some serious side effects for people with certain pre-existing conditions, a new study has found that even healthy individuals do not walk away unscathed.
Research published in the journal Criminology & Public Policy reveals that a shock from a Taser can temporarily alter brain function, resulting in brain activity similar to dementia. This raises questions about how suspects who have been tased should be read their Miranda rights and questioned by police, as they may not be cognitively able to respond in their own best interest.
"If suspects are cognitively impaired after being Tased, when should police begin asking them questions? There are plenty of people in prison who were Tased and then immediately questioned," lead author Robert Kane explained in a news release. "Were they intellectually capable of giving 'knowing' and 'valid' waivers of their Miranda rights before being subjected to a police interrogation? We felt we had moral imperative to fully understand the Tasers' potential impact on decision-making faculties in order to protect individuals' due process rights."
Kane was previously involved in research that found being shocked causes severe emotional distress for an hour, which can alter judgement when answering questions by the police. While a change in mental function seemed evident then, the full extent of what was happening inside the brain wasn't clear. The current study brings a clearer understanding of what is really going on.
The researchers gave nearly 150 participants cognitive tests that focused on memory, concentration, and learning, and then randomly split them into four groups. The first group served as the control, the second received a 5-second-long shock, the third group hit a punching bag in order to boost adrenaline in a way that is similar to being confronted by police, and the fourth group used the punching bag and received a five-second-long shock.
The cognitive tests were then repeated immediately after, which would replicate a person's mental state when hearing their Miranda rights while being arrested. The long-term effects were noted by doing the tests again after an hour, a day, and one week and comparing them to that first baseline test.
The researchers note that everyone in the study was healthy, sober, and did not use drugs.
Both of the groups who received shocks scored significantly lower on the cognitive test immediately following the treatment, effectively making their brain function like that of a 79-year-old. According to Kane, those who are older, mentally or physically ill, or are under the influence would have much more severe results.
While the harshest effects of getting tased go away after an hour, that is plenty of time for a person to waive their rights to stay silent or be persuaded into giving self-incriminating information.
"The findings from this study suggest that people who have been shocked with a Taser may be unable to understand and rationally act upon his or her legal rights, and may be more likely to waive their Miranda rights directly after Taser exposure or to give inaccurate information to investigators," Kane concluded. "These decisions can have profound impact on an eventual judicial finding of guilt or innocence."
While the researchers believe this study should impact how police treat suspects after they have been tased, research involving a more diverse group of participants is needed before any widespread procedural changes will likely be seen.
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