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

Dangerous Magical Thinking

By Dahlia Lithwick | Slate | March 20, 2015

Last week Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren ruled that two Wisconsin teenagers will have to stand trial as adults for attempted homicide. The two girls—both 12 at the time—stabbed a 12-year-old classmate 19 times last year. They said they did so to mollify a cult fan fiction character called Slender Man, who is about as creepy an imaginary figure as there can be. Attorneys for the two girls were hoping to have the charges reduced so they could be tried in juvenile court. But Judge Bohren found probable cause for prosecutors to bring first-degree attempted homicide charges, which, under Wisconsin law, must be tried in adult court. The girls will have another chance to seek to be tried as juveniles later this spring. Continue reading »

Where Law and Order Meets Paranoid and Schizophrenic

By Alysia Santo | The Marshall Project | March 18, 2015

Doctors tell Ronald he is schizophrenic, but he doesn’t believe them. For the past few weeks, he’s been an inmate and patient on the 19th floor of Bellevue Hospital, where mentally ill prisoners, mostly from Rikers Island, are held in a ward called the forensic unit.

Just down the hall from the forensic unit is a small courtroom, where Ronald (name changed to maintain patient privacy) appeared on a recent Tuesday in his light-blue hospital pajamas and slippers, his hands and feet cuffed. This is not the court where Ronald will be tried for the felony he’s facing, if indeed he ever gets to trial. The issue here — the only issue in Room 19E2 — is whether the mentally ill can be treated against their will. Ronald was refusing to take medication, so Bellevue applied to the court to administer antipsychotic drugs over his objection. “I used to have a mental illness in the past, but not anymore,” Ronald insisted to Judge Arthur Engoron, who was tasked with deciding between the patient and the hospital. Continue reading »

The Execution of Cecil Clayton and the Biology of Blame

By Sarah Kaplan | The Washington Post | March 18, 2015

In 1974, two months after having a portion of his brain removed due to an accident at the sawmill where worked, Cecil Clayton checked himself into a mental hospital, frightened by his suddenly uncontrollable temper.

Previously, Clayton had been an intelligent, guitar-playing family man, relatives said. He abstained from alcohol, worked part time as a pastor and paid weekly visits to a local nursing home.

But after the accident, which necessitated the removal of 20 percent of his frontal lobe, everything changed.

“He broke up with his wife, began drinking alcohol and became impatient, unable to work and more prone to violent outbursts,” Clayton’s brother Marvin testified at trial.

In 1979, he visited William Clary, a doctor who examined him for extreme anxiety, depression and paranoia.

“I can’t get ahold of myself, I’m all tore up,” Clayton told the doctor, according to court filings from his attorneys.

Clayton’s spiraling mental state and increasingly violent behavior came to a head in 1996, when he shot and killed Christopher Castetter, a sheriff’s deputy responding to a domestic disturbance between Clayton and his girlfriend. Clayton was eventually convicted of murder, and executed via lethal injection in Bonne Terre, Mo., Tuesday night. Continue reading »

Out of Detention: How to Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline

By Olivia Herrington | Harvard Political Review | 2 March 2015

A single instance of incarceration in a young person’s life increases the risk of future imprisonment, at a cost to taxpayers of $240.99 per day. Living in jail worsens the mental, emotional, and behavioral problems with which these children and adolescents must struggle. And mental disorders and youth incarceration already share an alarmingly strong link. As James Barrett, a psychologist at the Cambridge Health Alliance and in Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, said in an interview with the HPR, a “massive overlap” exists between the two groups. While just 20 percent of all American youth live with one or more mental disorders, that proportion jumps to 70 percent for the juvenile justice population. Continue reading »

“Cecil Clayton had – literally – a hole in his head”

AP | CBS News | 18 March 2015

BONNE TERRE, Mo. – A Missouri death row inmate has been executed for the shooting death of a sheriff’s deputy, after the U.S. Supreme Court and the state’s governor declined to spare the 74-year-old who attorneys said had a diminished mental capacity because of a brain injury.

Cecil Clayton was put to death Tuesday by lethal injection after Gov. Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the nation’s highest court turned aside appeals claiming Clayton was mentally incompetent. The Missouri Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, already had declined to intervene, with the court’s majority concluding last weekend there was no evidence Clayton wasn’t capable of understanding his circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court was also divided, with four judges saying they would have granted a stay. Continue reading »