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Brain-Zapping Tasers Render Arrestees Unfit For Police Questioning

A new study points to a huge civil rights issue that has been poorly considered.

Brain-Zapping Tasers Render Arrestees Unfit For Police Questioning

Tasers leave their victims "cognitively impaired" for awhile after their use.

New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Tasing counts as a "non-lethal" way for police to attack citizens, but then so is breaking your legs, and cops aren’t allowed to do that if they don’t like the look of you. New research shows that tasing might be just as damaging, cognitively-speaking, as a busted bone. In fact, being zapped by a stun-gun might make it impossible to properly understand a Miranda warning.

New research from Drexel University and Arizona State University investigates the effect of a 50,000-volt jolt on the human brain. Somehow, researchers persuaded 142 volunteers to get tased.

The testing took place in a hospital, and the brave volunteers were divided into four groups. One group spent a while beating on a punch-bag to "simulate the heightened physical state one might expect in a tense police encounter," another group got tased in five-second bursts, and a third group got to punch the bag and get zapped. A lucky fourth group lounged around doing nothing, as a control.

Flickr user Karen Apricot

Various cognitive tests and readings were made along the way, from initial screening, to just before and after the experiments, and one week later.

The result? "Significant reductions in verbal learning and memory," according to the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test (HVLT), which rates subjects by their ability to learn new information. For up to an hour after tasing, the volunteers’ cognitive functions had dropped to the mean level for a 79-year-old. The mean pre-test HVLT score was 26. Afterwards, a quarter of tasered participants scored just 20.

"If suspects are cognitively impaired after being Tased, when should police begin asking them questions?" ASU professor Robert Kane told Drexel Now. "There are plenty of people in prison who were tased and then immediately questioned. Were they intellectually capable of giving ‘knowing’ and ‘valid’ waivers of their Miranda rights before being subjected to a police interrogation?"

Flickr user David Holt

Taser use is only becoming more widespread. Mall cops carry them, and in North Dakota, police can legally zap humans using drone-mounted tasers. And remember, the volunteer victims in this study were hand-picked healthy specimens, both mentally and physically. Many of the citizens attacked by police are on drugs, or mentally ill, or emotionally unstable. The effect on these vulnerable individuals might be even worse.

Kane suggests "a public dialogue" in light of these findings, which could have a significant impact on the rights of citizens after having their minds and bodies interfered with.

"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," says Kane, "and may be more likely to waive their Miranda rights directly after taser exposure or to give inaccurate information to investigators. These decisions can have profound impact on an eventual judicial finding of guilt or innocence."

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