It’s not just people who go on trial these days. It’s their brains.
More and more lawyers are arguing that some defendants deserve special consideration because they have brains that are immature or impaired, says Nina Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University who has been studying the use of brain science in court.
About 5 percent of murder trials now involve some neuroscience, Farahany says. “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,” she says.
Farahany was a featured speaker at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week. Also featured were several brain scientists who are uncomfortable with the way courts are using brain research.
“What it doesn’t do is allow us to predict, for example, whether one particular teenager might be likely to be impulsive or to commit criminal behavior,” she says.
And Caudle worries that a study like hers could be used inappropriately in court. “Jurors tend to really take things like MRI scans as fact, and that gives me great pause,” she says.
A lot of the neuroscience presented in court is simply unnecessary, says Joshua Buckholtz, a psychologist at Harvard. “Anyone who’s every had a teenager would be able to tell you that their decision-making capacities are not comparable to adults,” he says.
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