News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Year in Review: 2013 – 2014

This spring, CLBB leadership, Scientific Faculty, and Advisory Board members gathered to review the Center’s activities over the course of the past year.

Our Ancestral Brain in the Modern World: A Mismatch?Randy Buckner, CLBB Faculty member and Harvard Professor of Psychology and of Neuroscience, laid the groundwork for rich discussion with his keynote talk, “Our Ancestral Brain in the Modern World: A Mismatch?” Buckner discussed how a neuroscientific understanding of the brain might elucidate some of the difficulties humans have adapting to our current world. He suggested that many of the questions CLBB examines – about juvenile justice, addictions, criminal responsibility, and more – can be in part investigated by understanding the mismatch between the ancestral brain and the modern world.

CLBB Co-directors Judith Edersheim and Bruce Price, and Associate Director Justin Baker, presented CLBB’s Year in Review, highlighting the CLBB mission, featured initiatives, and all CLBB-related events, publications, and press from the past year. Continue reading »

After Horton case, Massachusetts fell behind on criminal justice

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | May 18, 2014

Anyone of a certain age remembers Willie Horton. Furloughed in 1986 from a life sentence for murder, Horton, who is black, raped a white woman and assaulted her fiancé. But Horton’s legacy extends beyond the horrific crime he committed.

Many have blamed Governor Michael Dukakis’s failed presidential bid that year on publicity surrounding the case. Less often discussed is how far Horton’s crime set back criminal justice reform in Massachusetts — and still does to this day.

We like to think of Massachusetts as a progressive state, and it was on crime, too — until Horton. Indeed, except for our prohibition of the death penalty, there is little to set us apart from the Southern states that many in the Commonwealth consider overly punitive. Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina have all gone farther to reduce prison populations than Massachusetts. Horton’s shadow persists, silencing politicians who would be smart on crime rather than mindlessly tough. Continue reading »

Hank Greely: Neuroimaging, Mindreading, and the Courts

Neuroimaging is making subjective mental states, like physical and emotional pain, visible and verifiable. How much should the law change with this new insight into the mind? Professor Hank Greely of the Stanford School of Law shares an optimistic yet cautious exploration of these cutting-edge issues in law & neuroscience. Dr. Greely is Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences and former Co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project.

The talk was delivered as the Stuart Rome Lecture during the conference “Imaging the Brain, Changing Minds: Chronic Pain Neuroimaging and the Law,” at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law on April 24, 2014, presented in part by the Law & Health Care Program.

Arkansas court keeps life sentence for juvenile

By Chuck Bartels | Associated Press/San Francisco Gate | May 15, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court sustained a sentence on Thursday of life in prison without parole for a man who was 17 when he took part in a West Memphis killing, but the man’s lawyer said some pending cases might still clear the way for a new sentencing hearing.

The high court granted a state appeal of a circuit court ruling that had ordered a new sentence for Ulonzo Gordon, 37, who was convicted in the 1994 slaying of Otis Webster. Prosecutors said Gordon and another man shot at Webster in retaliation for the shooting of a different man. Continue reading »

Researcher says convicted murderer predisposed to violence

By Mitch Mitchell | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram | May 15, 2014

Cedric Allen Ricks

Cedric Allen Ricks

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Convicted murderer Cedric Allen Ricks has brain biology that predisposes him to violent behavior, a researcher said at his capital murder trial on Thursday.

Jeffrey Lewine, a neuroscience researcher for the Mind Research Network, a group of scientists who study mental illness, found that Ricks’ biochemical makeup tilts him toward violent responses. Lewine testified that he used several different imaging techniques to study Ricks’ brain.

This is the first time this type of testimony has been used in a criminal case in Texas, Lewine said.

Last week, a jury convicted Cedric Ricks of fatally stabbing his estranged girlfriend, Roxann Sanchez, 30, and her 8-year-old child, Anthony Figueroa. Ricks repeatedly stabbed Sanchez and her son, and then repeatedly stabbed the woman’s older son, 12-year-old Marcus Figueroa.

Marcus Figueroa barely escaped dying by mimicking the last breaths of his younger brother. Prosecutors Bob Gill and Robert Huseman are seeking the death penalty for Ricks.

“We tried everything we could to help him,” Helen Ricks, his mother, testified Thursday. “We tried whipping him, we went to counselors, we did what we could. We never thought we would be in a position like this, where he would be tried for murder.”

Images of Ricks’ brain showed he had one area, the putamen, that was larger than that area in the brains of control subjects, Lewine said. Larger putamens are associated with increased aggression, Lewine said. Ricks also scored high on a psychological exam that rates tendencies toward aggression and violent behavior and low on a test that rates emotional intelligence, Lewine said.

“Ricks ability to form and maintain long-term emotional relationships and read facial cues is impaired,” Lewine said.

Whatever method researchers used to look at Ricks’ brain the findings were the same, Lewine said. Ricks’ biology shows he leans toward violent behavior and biology is difficult to alter, he said.

“Across these tests we begin to see an emerging picture of someone who is biologically predisposed toward increased aggression and violent behavior,” Lewine said.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday in state District Judge Mollee Westfall’s court.

Read the full article here.