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

New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms

The Minnesota Daily features a recent study by CLBB Senior Fellow, Dr. Francis Shen, on the influence of memory-testing on jurors’ opinions. The article notes:

As memory-testing technology becomes increasingly common in courthouses and police precincts, one University of Minnesota law professor is testing the gizmos to prevent misuse.

Professor Francis Shen and a team of neuroscience and law students published a report in June showing jurors trust evidence from new memory-testing technology enough to merit its implementation, but not so much that it threatens to over-influence their vote.

When it comes to introducing new neuro-technology to courts and police houses, Shen said, hitting this legal sweet spot is key.

The technology in question, Electroencephalography Memory Recognition (EEG), is used to detect if a subject recognizes a given image or word by tracking activity in memory hotspots of the brain through a skull cap equipped with sensors, said Emily Twedell, a research professional on the project.

The technology works as a more accurate and specialized lie detector, and could help lawyers or police determine if a subject is lying about recognizing unique stolen property, a victim or a crime scene, Shen said.

“The idea is that law can do its job more effectively with the advent of new technology,” Shen said. “But of course, we have to prevent inappropriate uses.”

Shen said neuroscientists and law officials alike are hesitant to implement EEG for fear of misinforming jurors.

Because neither jurors nor law officials are trained in neuroscience, they could be “seduced” by EEG results they don’t understand — that’s where Shen’s team comes in.

To learn about the study’s design and findings, read the full article, “New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms, U Study Shows”, published in the Minnesota Daily on July 12, 2017.

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.

Continue reading »

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 »