Brain Scans as Evidence

An interesting article by Jon Hamilton on NPR this morning discusses the use of brain scans as evidence in the courtroom. The article cites the increasingly more common use of brain scans in criminal cases by lawyers attempting to show that their clients may not be mature enough to have realized the consequences of their actions or control their impulsive behavior.  Duke University law and philosophy professor Nita Farahany is quoted in the article as saying “There’s a steady increase of defendants seeking to introduce neuroscience to try to reduce the extent to which they’re responsible or the extent to which they’re punished for a crime.” The article further notes that 5% of murder trials now involve some neuroscience.  Professor Farahany also says “”It seems like judges are particularly enamored with the adolescent brain science. Large pieces of their opinions are dedicated to citing the neuroscientific studies, talking about brain development, and using that as a justification for treating juveniles differently.”

 

However, others worry about the unintended consequences of becoming too reliant on neuroscience in the courtroom. Kristina Caudle, a neuroscientist conducting studies in the field, worries that “Jurors tend to really take things like MRI scans as fact, and that gives me great pause.”  Psychologist Joshua Buckholtz also expresses concern about the potential for unexpected consequences and notes that “a lot of the neuroscience presented in the court is simply unnecessary.” Buckholtz further notes that it will be up to judges to integrate the use of neuroscience into the courtroom. “And how it works will depend on how well judges understand “what a scientific study is and what it says and what it doesn’t say and can’t say,” he says.

 

You can read the article online and also listen to the NPR broadcast at http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/11/12/244566090/brain-scans-shouldnt-get-their-day-in-court-scientists-say.

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