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

The U.S. Court System is Criminally Unjust

By Ana Swanson | The Washington Post | July 20, 2015

We like to believe that decisions made in U.S. courts are determined by the wisdom of the Constitution, and guided by fair-minded judges and juries of our peers.

Unfortunately, this is often wishful thinking. Unsettling research into the psychology of courtroom decisions has shown that our personal backgrounds, unconscious biases about race, gender and appearance, and even the time of day play a more important role in outcomes than the actual law.

Adam Benforado, a professor of law at Drexel University, describes these unsettling problems with the justice system in the recently published book “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice.” The book uses psychology and neuroscience to examine and expose the illogical and unfair ways that judges, jurors, attorneys and others in the legal system make decisions about who is sent to prison, and who walks free.

Benforado’s research shows that mistakes in the criminal justice system are more common than we like to think, and that our personal biases play a disturbingly strong role. He also argues that there are clear and easy steps that we could follow to limit these injustices, if we care to take them. Continue reading »

Massachusetts high court to hear eyewitness ID cases

By Denise Lavoie | The Associated Press | August 25, 2014

Zachary Sevigny was slashed with a box cutter by a stranger outside a convenience store in 2011.

Neither Sevigny nor his friend identified Jeremy Gomes as the attacker when shown his picture in a police photo array. But a week later, they saw Gomes inside a Pittsfield gas station and told police he was the culprit.

Gomes was found guilty of the attack, but his lawyer is challenging his conviction based on what he says were unreliable eyewitness identifications.

That challenge is one of four cases seeking changes in the way eyewitness identification testimony is presented to juries. The cases are set to be heard by the highest court in Massachusetts next month. Defense attorneys are pushing the court to adopt stronger instructions to advise jurors that eyewitness identifications are not always reliable. Continue reading »

How to avoid the perils of witness misidentification

By Wilson Dizard | Al Jazeera America | June 4, 2014

Part of the Al Jazeera America original series The System, exploring controversy within the criminal justice system.

On the day of the 1989 murder Brooklyn prosecutors said he committed, Jonathan Fleming was vacationing with his family at Disney World. But that didn’t stop him from spending half his life behind bars.

“I knew he didn’t do it, because I was there,” his mother, Patricia, who traveled with him to the theme park, told The Associated Press.

His alibi didn’t stop prosecutors from pursuing the case, claiming Jonathan Fleming flew round trip from Florida to New York just to kill his friend, Darryl “Black” Rush, that sweltering August day. Continue reading »