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

‘Your Honor, My Genes Made Me Do It’

There have been many theories to explain violent behavior. The latest involves a defective ‘warrior gene.’

Recent high-profile cases of mass shootings have renewed a vigorous debate about the causes of violent behavior. Predicting violence, whether by sentencing judges, parole boards or mental health professionals, has been a perplexing issue as we try to unravel the personal and social forces behind criminal behavior. Continue reading »

Friendly Fraud

Recently, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley took the unusual step of warning the Massachusetts elderly about a widespread telephone scam. In these so called “grandparent scams,” someone who claims to be a relative calls to say that a grandchild or family member is in trouble and instructs the target to wire money in order to help. To back this claim, callers offer demographic information easily obtained on the internet, or information inadvertently provided by the victim while on the telephone. Continue reading »

Neuroimaging, Diminished Capacity and Litigation

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Roper v. Simmons and the amicus briefs
submitted in support of abolishing the death penalty for juveniles suggests that neuroscientific evidence will play an increasingly important role in shaping legal concepts of culpability. Neuroscience is already beginning to play an important role in insanity defense proceedings. In addition, when mental conditions do not meet the stringent standards required for exculpation on insanity grounds, they might still be relevant to culpability, either because they influenced the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense (diminished capacity) or because they reduce the blameworthiness of the defendant for sentencing purposes (mitigation).

Neuroimaging in these contexts may shed light on the mental state of the accused at the
time of the offense in order to help juries and judges determine the defendant’s quality of
thought or level of culpability. In these instances, neuroimaging evidence is relevant to
the “mens rea” element of the criminal offense.

Source: Neuroimaging in Forensic Psychiatry: From the Clinic to the Courtroom. Edited by Joseph R. Simpson. Forward by Henry Greely. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. [Read full chapter] [Check out the book]

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Neuroimaging in the courtroom.

Neuroimaging has advanced our understanding of how the living brain operates, providing structural and functional images of both healthy and diseased brains. This technology pervades today’s society, particularly affecting the legal arena. Some judges argue that scientific evidence, which offers insight into the offender’s mental state, is crucial because it is the only
means of determining whether an offender’s punishment is proportional to his crime.1 Other judges argue that “objective” evidence does not “wholly determine the controversy,” and focus instead on their duty as gatekeepers to independently evaluate scientific evidence. If courts use brain images to make their culpability determinations more objective and sound, these images must meet pertinent legal standards and shed light on medical conditions. For neuroimaging to meet these legal and medical standards with scientific integrity, scientists must convincingly correlate the dynamic images in a person’s brain with the way the person is thinking or acting at that moment.

Source: American Journal of Law and Medicine, 2007. [Read full article]