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

Justice Denied in the Bronx

By Nancy Gertner | New York Law Journal | May 13, 2016

Access to justice means more than fancy courthouses, a courtroom with high ceilings, the American flag unfurled, and even compelling quotes from the U.S. Constitution. Access to justice means more than a presiding judge looking dignified in a long black robe, on an elevated platform, with the lawyers before him or her. Access to justice is not a Kabuki show—the ceremony of justice but not the reality.

But to those accused of misdemeanor offenses in the Bronx, a court proceeding is just a hollow ritual. According to the lawsuit filed by The Bronx Defenders, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, and Morrison & Foerster, there are few trials, no opportunity to confront witnesses, no way to challenge the government’s case, no opportunity to be publicly vindicated in a speedy proceeding, and unconscionable delays. Continue reading »

The Corruption Continuum: When Giving Gifts Bleeds to Bribery

By Nancy Gertner | The Washington Post | May 6, 2016

Nancy Gertner is a retired federal district court judge and a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, and a CLBB Senior Faculty member. She is a signatory of an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case United States v. McDonnell, on behalf of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell.

When we talk about political corruption, what often comes to mind is what the law calls “quid pro quo”: I give a politician money and in exchange he or she gets me a government contract or votes in my favor. But there is a continuum of quid pro quo exchanges, some plainly illegal, some not and some ambiguous.

In the case of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell, the Supreme Court will decide whether it is constitutional to prosecute a public official for conduct on that continuum, conduct never before determined to be at the illegal end. The issue is not whether we should regulate gifts to public officials; the issue is whether the criminal law can be used as a bludgeon when we have not done so. I think not. As a matter of due process, criminal prosecutions can be brought only when we have clearly defined what is legal and what is not.

Continue reading »

Secrets of the Grand Jury

By Nancy Gertner and Jack Corrigan | The Boston Globe | April 27, 2016

The Globe reported Sunday that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh wouldn’t say whether he had been a grand jury witness in a federal investigation into the tactics of Boston Building Trades unions. Since then, many have chided him for not being more forthright. But that misses a critical point: Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret. Government agents are bound by strict confidentiality rules. They may not disclose who has been called, when they testified, or what the subject was; they are barred from releasing information about wiretaps or other evidence they have assembled. While witnesses may speak about their testimony, they do receive a letter from the government with their subpoena that strongly urges them not to do so to protect the integrity of the grand jury investigative process. And that “suggestion” is particularly important in this probe and one that Walsh was right to heed. Continue reading »

Humanizing Pain: Advocacy, Policy and Law on Abortion, Execution and Juvenile Life Without Parole

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

I recently attended a presentation on Fetal Pain: An Update on the Science and Legal Implications, jointly sponsored by the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (Massachusetts General Hospital) and the Petrie-Flom Center (Harvard Law School). Presenters were Amanda Pustilnik, JD (University of Maryland School of Law) and Maureen Strafford, MD (Tufts University School of Medicine). Video of the event is available on the website, and I encourage everyone to watch the full discussion for themselves.

Doctor Strafford delivered a masterful overview of the trajectory of scientific perspective and research about children and pain. Over the course of her career, the medical perspective has transformed from “children do not feel pain” to “children do not remember pain” to inquiry into “when and how children feel pain.” Strafford described the medical complexities of understanding the physical and subjective aspects of pain as well as the impossibility of confidently “pinpointing” the exact point in fetal development when a neonate experiences pain.

Professor Pustilnik gave an equally compelling review of law and legal language regarding abortion, particularly law that specifically references fetal pain as a reason for limiting abortion.   This served to frame a conversation about pain and suffering in the law and the ways in which law reflects normative considerations and provides rhetoric (viewed respectively by partisans as “compelling” or “inflammatory”) to political discourse. In this case, discourse about fetal pain both attracts attention and is intended to facilitate empathy for the neonate.

Taken together, Pustilnik and Strafford made a powerful case that the current discourse about fetal pain reflects a strategic communication strategy intended to advance the cause of abortion opponents. Continue reading »

We Asked Scientists: Just How Punchable is Martin Shkreli’s Face?

By Jessica Goldstein | ThinkProgress | February 10, 2016

Martin Shkreli, the widely-despised pharmaceutical CEO who hiked the price of a cancer drug from $13.50 a tablet to $750 overnight, may currently hold the crown for America’s Most Actively Disliked Public Figure.

Last Thursday, Shkreli testified before the House Committee on Oversight. He barely said a word while seated at the witness table, choosing to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. Instead, Shkreli twisted his face into every smug smirk imaginable. Each expression was more disdainful and infuriating than the last. A consensus from an already not-thrilled public was reached: Martin Shkreli has the most punchable face in the world. It is almost a wonder to behold. Continue reading »