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

Neuroscience and Behavioral Genetics in US Criminal Law: An Empirical Analysis

By Nita Farahany | Journal of Law and the Biosciences | January 14, 2016

Abstract:

The goal of this study was to examine the growing use of neurological and behavioral genetic evidence by criminal defendants in US criminal law. Judicial opinions issued between 2005–12 that discussed the use of neuroscience or behavioral genetics by criminal defendants were identified, coded and analysed. Yet, criminal defendants are increasingly introducing such evidence to challenge defendants’ competency, the effectiveness of defense counsel at trial, and to mitigate punishment.

Read the entire paper here.

Growing Use of Neurobiological Evidence in Criminal Trials

Duke University Professor of Law & Philosophy, Nita Farahany, recently published an empirical review of the growing use of neuroscience and behavioral genetics in the courtroom. This article reviews the findings and discusses the overall impact of the use of these new scientific techniques in the legal arena.

By Emily Underwood | Science | January 21, 2016

In 2008, in El Cajon, California, 30-year-old John Nicholas Gunther bludgeoned his mother to death with a metal pipe, and then stole $1378 in cash, her credit cards, a DVD/VCR player, and some prescription painkillers. At trial, Gunther admitted to the killing, but argued that his conviction should be reduced to second-degree murder because he had not acted with premeditation. A clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist testified that two previous head traumas—one the result of an assault, the other from a drug overdose—had damaged his brain’s frontal lobes, potentially reducing Gunther’s ability to plan the murder, and causing him to act impulsively. The jury didn’t buy Gunther’s defense, however; based on other evidence, such as the fact that Gunther had previously talked about killing his mother with friends, the court concluded that he was guilty of first-degree murder, and gave him a 25-years-to-life prison sentence.

Gunther’s case represents a growing trend, a new analysis suggests. Between 2005 and 2012, more than 1585 U.S. published judicial opinions describe the use of neurobiological evidence by criminal defendants to shore up their defense, according to a study published last week in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences by legal scholar Nita Farahany of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. In 2012 alone, for example, more than 250 opinions cited defendants’ arguments that their “brains made them do it”—more than double the number of similar claims made in 2007.  Continue reading »

WATCH — Dr. Edersheim and Judge Gertner at HUBweek

CLBB’s Dr. Judith Edersheim and Judge Gertner were featured speakers at this year’s HUBweek, as part of the Perspectives in Healing: Women in Medicine series. Dr. Edersheim will headline the event titled, “Where the Brain and the Law Intersect”, on Sunday, October 4th, from 6-7 pm. Continue reading »