Use of Truth Serum in Colorado Shooter Case Raises Questions

By:  Bob Adelmann
Use of Truth Serum in Colorado Shooter Case Raises Questions

Using a "truth serum" to determine whether or not the Aurora, Colorado shooter James Holmes was sane or not at the time of the shooting is more likely to obfuscate and delay the trial rather than clarify and expedite it.

When defense counsel for James Holmes, the alleged Aurora, Colorado shooter, said on Monday that Holmes was not ready to enter a plea in his murder trial, Arapahoe County District Court Judge William Sylvester entered one for him: not guilty. The judge also said Holmes could change that plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, but if he did, Holmes would be required to submit to a “narcoanalytic interview” using “medically appropriate” drugs to determine if he really was insane at the time of the shooting or if he was just faking it.

Truth serums have a lurid history, and their effectiveness in rooting out truth has been seriously questioned. Use of them raises serious legal, ethical, and constitutional questions, as well. Scopolamine, sodium pentathol, and Amytal are the drugs most commonly used in such interviews, as they cause the patient (in this case, the defendant) to become uninhibited and talkative, but according to the Gale Encyclopedia, they “do not guarantee the veracity of the subject.… Persons under the influence of truth serums are still able to lie and even to fantasize.”

The procedure involves injecting Holmes with gradual doses of the drug until he relaxes and becomes more open to questioning. August Piper, a Seattle-based psychiatrist who has used truth serum in treating patients, explained how it works:

During an Amytal interview, the physician administers small amounts of the drug, by vein, every few minutes. The procedure usually takes about an hour. The patient is drowsy and slurred of speech, but awake — the so-called “twilight state” for the duration of the interview.

Intravenous Amytal causes a feeling of relaxation, warmth, and closeness to the interviewer; while in this state, the patient is questioned.

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