Tasers Are Bad For Your Brain, Especially When Being Interrogated By Police

Are Miranda warnings valid if a person is experiencing dementia?


The first independent randomized clinical trial

Tasers are bad for your brain.
Flickr/Marcelo Freixo

of the effects of tasers on human beings' cognitive functioning has revealed the not-so-shocking news that 50,000 volts to the nervous system significantly hampers brain functions like memory and comprehension.

In some cases, the results were "comparable to dementia," which makes police interrogations of suspects shortly after they've been tased highly questionable. If a person is experiencing a trauma akin to dementia, can they really understand what "the right to remain silent" is? 

A joint study by Arizona State University and Drexel University titled, "TASER Exposure and Cognitive Impairment: Implications for Valid Miranda Waivers and the Timing of Police Custodial Interrogations," published in Criminology & Public Policy, put 142 healthy, "high-functioning," and sober participants through a series of tests intended to determine the physical, mental, and emotional effects of being tased. The report concluded that "Taser exposure caused statistically significant reductions in verbal learning and memory" and that the effects of such exposure lasted about an hour. 

The carefully screened subjects of these tests were almost certainly operating in a more optimal physical and mental state than the average person likely to encounter a police taser. The report notes that more typical examples of tased individuals "may be high, drunk or mentally ill and in crisis," which would cause "even greater impairment to cognitive functioning" and make them less likely to understand the rights enumerated in the Miranda statement.  

One of the authors of the report, Robert J. Kane, PhD, explains:

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. 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.

You can read more Reason coverage of Tasers here, and also check out my recent interview with Nick Berardini, director of the documentary Killing Them Safely, the first feature-length exploration of TASER International and its eponymous product.

Reason TV's Paul Detrick covered the lethality of Tasers in a 2012 doc, which you can below.