Narco-analysis is a crime detection technique in which a test is conducted upon an accused person to reveal the facts of the case and important proof of the commission of an offence. The test is generally administered by injecting about 3 grams of chemicals like sodium pentothal or scopolamine dissolved in 3000 millilitres of distilled water into the accused person's body. This makes the accused go into a hypnotic state, and the test is conducted while constantly monitoring his blood pressure and heart rate. An expert then asks carefully constructed questions to the accused and records the answers. It is said that the chemical acts as a truth serum that enables the expert to extract the truth from the subject. In turn, this information extracted acts as a guiding point in detecting various ingredients required to prove the commission of an offence. The narco analysis test was introduced for the first time in India in 1936 but was first used in 2002 in the Godhara Carnage Case.
As opined by Dr. M.S Rao, Chief Forensic Scientist for the government of India, these deception detection tests play a vital role in uncovering and sometimes even preventing terrorist activities. Considering the rise of India's crime rate, this technology aids in discovering evidence by the police by soliciting information from even hardened criminals. These tests act as a good alternative to the traditional methods of torture employed by the police, which impinge upon the rights of the persons. Since the subject is put in a subconscious state by the drugs, there is very little possibility of modifying the truth by the subject, which helps establish or corroborate the guilt of the accused. Narco-test has proved to be useful in many cases, such as the Abu Salem case, which uncovered his involvement in many offences.
Nonetheless, many issues surround the administration of narco tests. Since a chemical is introduced in the body of the subject, the excessive dosage could lead to coma or even death of the person. Another issue is that since the accused's mental and physical state is severely altered, the reliability of the information received is questionable. On several instances, it has been alleged that the administration of such deception deduction techniques violates the right against self-incrimination guaranteed under Article 20(3) of the Constitution. Article 20(3) provides that ‘no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself’ and narco-test impinges upon this fundamental right of the citizens. It is dreaded that even a small mistake on the part of the person conducting the test can result in serious danger to the life of the subject.
Administration of narco-test involves a complex interplay of law and technology where the need for crime detection and protection of rights of the accused need to be balanced. While technological and scientific developments are largely welcome in the Indian criminal justice system, they cannot be allowed to take away any person's rights.
In the case of Nandini Satpathy v. P.L. Dani, the Apex Court held that no person could be allowed to extract incriminating statements from the accused as the accused has a right to remain silent during the course of an interrogation.
Similarly, in the case of Santokben Sharmabhai Jadeja v. State of Gujarat, the Court upheld the order for the administration of Narco Analysis test on the accused Santokben Sharmabhai Jadeja. It was observed by the Court that in a situation where all possible alternatives to discover the truth or capture the offenders have been exhausted, the prosecuting agency has no other remedy than the recourse to scientific methods of deception detection tests. These tests help overcome any obstacles or guide the police when the investigation reaches a dead end. On the basis of such revelation, if the prosecuting agency comes across some clues or records or a statement that helps or assists in further investigation of the offence, then there will not be any violation of Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India.
In the case of Selvi v. State of Karnataka, it was held by the Supreme Court that involuntary administration of narco-test is ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution. Any information obtained through involuntary narco-tests cannot be admitted as evidence in the Court of law. The decision of the Court was based upon the reasoning that a person has no conscious control over the results of such tests, and unless a person consents to the procedure, it cannot be held to be valid. Involuntary administration of narco-analysis test is a violation of Article 20(3) of the Constitution. No person shall be forced to subject himself/ herself to such tests as it would amount to an unwarranted invasion into the personal liberty of such person.
However, the Court laid down various guidelines to be followed while conducting the tests with the consent of the accused. According to the Court, a subject must be made well aware of the consequences, both legal and health, before the test is done upon him, i.e. informed consent must be obtained. In case the accused desires to subject himself to these tests, he must be provided access to a lawyer. Physical, emotional, psychological and legal consequences must be explained to the subject. Consent of the accused must be recorded before a Magistrate, and it is the duty of the Magistrate to ensure that such consent is voluntary. Information revealed in these tests will not amount to a confessional statement in court proceedings. All tests have to be recorded, and factual narration of the same must be taken on record.
The efficiency of narco-analysis as a crime detection has been questioned in several instances. It has been repeatedly argued that it violates the right against self-incrimination of an accused subjected to a narco-analysis test. While these tests use drugs meant to put them in a subconscious state and have little or no control over the outcome. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that they assist the police in solving cases. To balance the interests of the accused and the police, the Court has allowed the conduction of deception deduction tests after an informed consent taken by the accused in the presence of a lawyer as well as a medical professional.