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

Alabama Baby’s Death Raises Questions About Child’s Criminal Responsibility

In the case of the death of one-year-old Kelci Lewis, an eight-year-old boy is being charged with murder. No adults were present, and the case hinges on the account of six-year-old who was also in eight-year-old’s care that night. Alabama is one of 30 states with no minimum age for criminal responsibility. 

By Amanda Holpuch | The Guardian | November 15, 2015

The neat green trim on the Birmingham home matched the color of the bountiful trees hanging over its roof. There were stones plastered across the front of the residence so that children inside could imagine that they lived in a castle. A neighbor said that the sloped yard served as terrain for children to slide down on pieces of cardboard – “typical kids”, he said.

In one of the most dangerous big cities in the country, Second Avenue South is a relatively safe place during the day. But at night, a neighbor warned, “the goblins come out”.

He himself was newly out of prison and warned of neighborhood cliques who prowl the Alabama neighborhood when it is dark to defend their territory. But one night last month, the night-time horror was of a different nature and the placid-looking, green-trimmed house was the crime scene. Continue reading »

WATCH – “From Troubled Teens to Tsarnaev: Promises and Perils of Adolescent Neuroscience and Law”

Click to enlarge poster.

Click to enlarge poster.

The neuroscience of adolescent brain development has had increasing impact on American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court relied on this neuroscience in Roper v. Simmons (2005) in barring execution for capital crimes committed as a juvenile and in Miller v. Alabama (2012) in holding that mandatory life without possibility of parole for juveniles is also unconstitutional.

On Monday, September 28, 2015, CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center assembled a panel of developmental scientists, clinicians, and legal scholars for a panel discussion examining the implications of developmental neuroscience for law in specific domains including death penalty mitigation for young adults over age 18 such as the Tsarnaev case, a developmentally informed view of Miranda and Competence to Stand Trial for juveniles, trial of youth as adults, and conditions of confinement in juvenile and adult incarceration.

The panel discussed the promises and perils for constitutional jurisprudence, legal and public policy reform, and trial practice of relying upon a complex body of science as it emerges. Scroll down to view complete video from the event.

This event is part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. 

Continue reading »

The Trials of Teresa Sheehan

By Sandra Allen | BuzzFeed | July 9, 2015

On Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008, a social worker named Heath Hodge arrived at a three-story residence in San Francisco’s Mission District. Hodge was employed by a nonprofit called Conard House, which runs several cooperatives for adults with mental illnesses throughout the city. As Hodge climbed the stairs to the bedrooms on the second floor, one resident in particular was on his mind.  Continue reading »

Distraught People: Deadly Results

By Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Keith L. Alexander | The Washington Post | June 30, 2015

It was not yet 9 a.m., and Gary Page was drunk. The disabled handyman had a long history of schizophrenia and depression and, since his wife died in February, he had been struggling to hold his life together.

That bright Saturday morning in March, something snapped. Page, 60, slit his wrists, grabbed a gun and climbed the stairs to his stepdaughter’s place in the Pines Apartments in Harmony, Ind. He said he wanted to die. And then he called 911.

“I want to shoot the cops,” Page slurred to the dispatcher, prodding his stepdaughter to confirm that, yes, he had a gun. “I want them to shoot me.”

Minutes later, Page’s death wish was granted. Two Clay County sheriff’s deputies arrived to find that he had taken a neighbor hostage. They opened fire, striking him five times in the torso and once in the head. Page’s gun later turned out to be a starter pistol, loaded only with blanks. His threats of violence turned out to be equally empty, the product of emotional instability and agonizing despair.

Continue reading »

Deconstructing Intent to Reconstruct Morality

By Fiery Cushman | Current Opinion in Psychology | June 25, 2015

Abstract:

Mental state representations are a crucial input to human moral judgment. This fact is often summarized by saying that we restrict moral condemnation to “intentional” harms. This simple description is the beginning of a theory, however, not the end of one. There is rich internal structure to the folk concept of intentional action, which comprises a series of causal relations between mental states, actions and states of affairs in the world. Moral judgment shows nuanced patterns of sensitivity to all three of these elements: mental states (like beliefs and desires), the actions that a person performs, and the consequences of those actions. Deconstructing intentional action into its elemental fragments will enable future theories to reconstruct our understanding of moral judgment.

Read full article here.