Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Building to Extremes Human Body Shop SpyCatchers Hi-Tech War Crash Site Secrets Miracle Cell Light Speed Brain Fingerprinting Innovation - Life, Inspired
ask the experts other episodes
the expert's answers to your questions back to intro
Photo of Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell

Brain Fingerprinting

Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell

Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc. (BFL) was founded by Dr. Farwell to commercialize his discovery of Brain Fingerprinting and related technologies based in the measurement and analysis of human brain waves. Dr. Farwell is a groundbreaking neuroscientist, Harvard graduate, and former Harvard Medical School Research Associate. He invented, developed, and patented Brain Fingerprinting. Dr. Farwell's research in developing, testing, and proving this technology included contracts totaling over $1 million with the Central Intelligence Agency and research with the FBI and the US Navy.

To what extent does altered perception of the person undergoing the test skew the results? What happens when drugs, great emotion, or deliberate self-deception change the perception of someone involved in an occurrence that might be investigated by brain fingerprinting? Many lawyers will admit that eyewitnesses are not always accurate in their descriptions of what happened.

A case in point is the Brain Fingerprinting test on murder suspect JB Grinder. Grinder was on alcohol and drugs, and in a highly emotionally-charged state at the time of the murder of Julie Helton. He was on anti-psychotic drugs at the time of his Brain Fingerprinting test. The results of the test were excellent: JB Grinder's brain showed a clear "information present" result, and shortly thereafter he pled guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Although Brain Fingerprinting has been used successfully in cases involving drugs and other factors influencing memory, Brain Fingerprinting results nevertheless must be interpreted by a judge and jury in light of the known limitations on human memory.

The limitations on Brain Fingerprinting are similar to the limitations on other forensic sciences. It is important to understand that science does not tell us who is innocent or guilty, committed a crime or not. This is up to a judge and jury to determine. Science provides evidence for a judge and jury to weigh along with all the other evidence. For example, a DNA test only tells us if two specific biological samples have matching DNA. It does not tell us if a person committed a rape or murder. For example, in one recent case, DNA testing showed scientifically that DNA in the semen found on the victim did not match the accused suspect. The jury found him guilty anyway. Why? Because the victim reported having consensual sex with someone else within 24 hours of the crime, and police caught the suspect in question literally on top of the victim with his pants down. DNA science did not fail. It gave the correct scientific result. But the DNA test result had to be interpreted in light of other known facts.

Brain Fingerprinting science accurately determines what information is stored in a person's brain. Science does not tell us what information should, would, or could be stored in a person's brain under what circumstances -- i.e., what a person should, would, or could know if he was guilty of a crime. Brain Fingerprinting science -- or any science -- does not tell us whether a person is innocent or guilty, whether he participated in a crime or not. It is up to a judge and jury, not a scientist or computer, to make the judgment as to whether someone is guilty of a crime or not. A Brain Fingerprinting result of "information present" is not the same as "this suspect is guilty." A determination of "information absent" is not the same as "this suspect is innocent." The judge and jury must evaluate the Brain Fingerprinting evidence, along with all the other available evidence, in making their determination. Brain Fingerprinting simply provides evidence so that the judge and jury can make a better-informed decision.

A Brain Fingerprinting scientist or expert witness does not offer an opinion on the question of what a person has or has not done, or whether he is guilty of a crime or not. Nor does his computer give us an answer to this question. He simply states what the science proves: certain specific features of the crime are or are not stored in a specific person's brain. It is up to the judge and jury to interpret and weigh this evidence in reaching their conclusion regarding the facts of the crime. The question of presence or absence of information in a specific brain is a scientific one that is answered by Brain Fingerprinting testing. The question of who committed a crime or not is a legal one that is answered by a judge and jury.

The question above points out that eyewitnesses, even truthful eyewitnesses, are not always accurate. Even a truthful eyewitness testifies not to the truth, but to the contents of his memory, which is only an imperfect reflection of the truth. This is because human memory is limited and imperfect. The question points out several of the factors that may influence memory. There are many thousands of other factors. Every time a judge and jury hear witness testimony, they must take into account the limitations on human memory, and all the myriad factors influencing memory, in evaluating the weight to give this testimony regarding the crime at issue. The same is true of Brain Fingerprinting testing. Again, Brain Fingerprinting does not tell us what should, would, or could be stored in a person's brain if he participated in a crime. It only tells us what IS stored in a person's brain. It is up to a judge and jury to determine, based on the Brain Fingerprinting results and all other evidence evaluated in the light of their own human judgment and common sense, whether or not the person committed the crime.

The interpretation of a Brain Fingerprinting result by a judge and jury shares the same limitations, with respect to the limitations on human memory, as eyewitness testimony. This does not mean, of course, that Brain Fingerprinting and eyewitness testimony are not useful sources of evidence for a judge and jury. As with every science, Brain Fingerprinting results must be evaluated intelligently and judiciously by the judge and jury.

The question also brings up the issue of "self deception." It is not uncommon for perpetrators to convince themselves that they are not guilty, or that the actions that they committed do not actually constitute a crime or are otherwise justifiable or even noble. On the other hand, sometimes innocent suspects confess to crimes they did not commit. Self-deception or deception of others has no effect on Brain Fingerprinting testing. A person who has convinced himself that he is innocent still knows the salient features of the crime, and an innocent suspect still does not know the salient features of the crime (except the ones he has been told). Brain Fingerprinting testing detects this difference in what is stored in the brain.


Is it possible that Mr. Slaughter doesn't respond to information about the case (like where the body was found) because over the past ten years the evidence of this case has become so boring to him that it elicits the same response as neutral information? How many people have been tested with brain fingerprinting that allegedly committed crimes years and years ago?

Brain Fingerprinting detects the presence or absence of information stored in the brain. The response measured is a purely cognitive response, not an emotional one. It has nothing to do with whether the information detected is "boring" or not. The subject does not have to emotionally "respond" to the information presented; he only has to recognize it for it to be detected by Brain Fingerprinting. Slaughter's brain did in fact emit a P300-MERMER in response to the target stimuli -- the details of the crime that he did know. These details were no less "boring" than the probe stimuli -- the salient features of the crime that he claimed not to know, and in fact did not know as evidenced by the lack of a P300-MERMER in response to the probes in the Brain Fingerprinting test. Brain Fingerprinting has correctly detected information regarding events from years past in over 80 cases.


In the case of Jimmy Slaughter, couldn't brain fingerprinting be used to prove that he was in Kansas (and not near the murder scene) as he says? There must be some peculiar, minute details about the family trip (that he said he took) -- that he and his family members (or hotel workers, restaurant workers, etc.) would know. Shouldn't the system work on the alibi as easily as the crime scene?

Under certain circumstances, it is useful to test a suspect for information regarding his alibi. For example, in the Harrington case, first we obtained an "information absent" Brain Fingerprinting result for salient features of the crime. At that point a question might be asked, "Since it's been 23 years, maybe he has an extremely bad memory, and he just doesn't remember anything from 23 years ago." To answer this question, we tested Harrington for the details of the night of the murder, as recounted by alibi witnesses. The Brain Fingerprinting test showed that the record of the alibi was stored in his brain. This shows that the reason that he does not have a record of the crime in his brain is not just a catastrophic memory failure. He does indeed have intact memories from that time period, and Brain Fingerprinting successfully detects the record of events he actually knows from that time period. Note, however, that this only proves that Harrington's memory is intact: he does indeed remember details from 23 years ago. It does not prove that the alibi is true, however. The fact that he remembers the details of the alibi 23 years later does not prove that the alibi events actually took place at the exact same time as the crime, or even that they took place at all. Again, the alibi test is just a test to show that memory for that time period is intact.

That said, yes, we could have tested Slaughter for information related to his alibi. In fact, Slaughter's attorney asked permission for us to remain in the prison one more day and test him for information related to his alibi, but permission was refused. This may not, however, present a problem in the interpretation of the results of the test on the murder, because in this case we were able to find some exceptionally excellent information about the murder to test Slaughter on. In order to find Slaughter guilty of murder in light of the current evidence, a jury will have to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he could have committed two murders and extensively tortured a woman in a house he was very familiar with, and does not even know which rooms in the house the crimes took place in or where in the room the woman's body was lying.


Have you investigated the effect of brain fingerprinting as it relates to a person who enters a dissociative state? Perhaps an individual commits a crime that is so horrendous to his own moral compass that he blacks out while committing it. Would your process work under such a scenario?

It is very common for people who have committed heinous crimes to claim that they remember little or nothing about the crimes, so long as those claims serve some psychological or legal purpose. We have seen no actual scientific evidence in the scientific literature, however, of criminal cases where there has been objective proof that the person actually does not remember the crime. In sex crimes (which also in many cases involve other physical harm to the victim or even murder) offenders must remember and acknowledge their crimes as a part of treatment, and are subject to penalties when they refuse to cooperate in treatment. Under these circumstances, where there is no benefit and even a penalty for "not remembering" the crime, it is virtually unheard of for perpetrators to fail to remember their crimes.

That said, anything is possible, particularly where human beings are involved. This question brings up one of the thousands of factors that may conceivably influence human memory. Many thousands of studies have been published on human memory and the factors influencing it that may have forensic implications. Many more thousands, perhaps millions, of studies will be done on human memory over the next several centuries, and by then we will still probably not have a comprehensive account of all the factors influencing memory that may have forensic implications. The primary arena where the limitations of human memory impact the criminal justice system is in the field of eyewitness testimony, but the limitations on human memory apply to Brain Fingerprinting as well. Just as the limitations of human memory must be taken into account in every trial where there is testimony by witnesses, every judge and jury weighing Brain Fingerprinting evidence must take into account these same limitations. This does not, of course, mean that judges and juries cannot be helped in their determinations by evidence, whether it be from Brain Fingerprinting or witness testimony, that involves human memory. It only means that any evidence involving memory must be evaluated in the light of the imperfection and limitations of human memory.

It is important to understand that all Brain Fingerprinting testing does is to scientifically detect information stored in a person's brain. It does not tell us what should, could, or would be stored in a person's brain under what circumstances. It only tells us what IS stored in a person's brain. How this evidence is interpreted, and what conclusions are drawn from it, is up to a judge and jury. The question of memory and its limitations and the role of Brain Fingerprinting are discussed in more detail above in the answer to the first question.



Be more inspired. Help bring programs like INNOVATION to your PBS station ... pledge online!
E-mail this page
ask the experts for teachers resources about the series sitemap
INNOVATION Online is a production of Thirteen WNET New York. Copyright 2004 Educational Broadcasting Corporation.