News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

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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

Dr. Edersheim Explains the Insanity Defenses for Juvenile Killers

CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim spoke with VICE on the insanity defense and its unique application in cases with juvenile defendants. She also spoke generally about the ongoing trial of Philip Chism, 16, who is accused of rape and murder and who, the defense argues, suffers from severe mental illness. In an interview with Susan Zalkind, Dr. Edersheim notes:

“The law has an insanity standard that is premised on an examination of behavior. Is this person at the moment of this offense behaving in a folk-psychology way that indicates that he or she has a defect of reason or volition, an inability to control themselves, or an inability to think reasonably? You could ask those same questions of juveniles or adults.

The more complicated answer is philosophical moral and neuroscientific. Adolescents are so different [from adults] that we ought to have different standards for them in light of the emerging adolescent neuroscience and how that intersects the moral underpinnings of law.”

Read the rest of the piece from VICE, “An Expert Explains the Complexities and Confusion of Insanity Defenses for Juvenile Killers”, by Susan Zalkind, published November 20, 2015.

America’s Justice System Sure Doesn’t Know Much Science

By Sara Zhang | WIRED | August 3, 2015

JAMES HOLMES WALKED into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 carrying three guns including a semi-automatic rifle and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. Nobody, not even his defense attorneys, denied that. But those attorneys still told a jury and a judge that Holmes was not guilty of those crimes—because he was insane. Last month, that jury rejected that assertion, finding Holmes guilty on all counts.

Holmes’ plea didn’t get him off, but it did get people talking about the insanity defense again. It’s a rare move for defense attorneys these days, even quaint sounding. Psychiatrists no longer call patients “insane.” It’s not a clinical diagnosis. Yet the term persists in the courtroom—along with many other practices unsupported by modern psychology and neuroscience.

Americans inherited a legal system shaped by history, not by science. “The legal system is resistant to change and resistant to paying attention to scientific research,” says Adam Benforado, a law professor at Drexel University and author of the recent book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice. The system assumes that innocent people don’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit. It presumes that eyewitness testimonies are reliable. It counts on the impartiality of jurors.

None of those things are borne out by evidence.

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