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

Hank Greely: Neuroimaging, Mindreading, and the Courts

Neuroimaging is making subjective mental states, like physical and emotional pain, visible and verifiable. How much should the law change with this new insight into the mind? Professor Hank Greely of the Stanford School of Law shares an optimistic yet cautious exploration of these cutting-edge issues in law & neuroscience. Dr. Greely is Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences and former Co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project.

The talk was delivered as the Stuart Rome Lecture during the conference “Imaging the Brain, Changing Minds: Chronic Pain Neuroimaging and the Law,” at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law on April 24, 2014, presented in part by the Law & Health Care Program.

Researcher says convicted murderer predisposed to violence

By Mitch Mitchell | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram | May 15, 2014

Cedric Allen Ricks

Cedric Allen Ricks

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Convicted murderer Cedric Allen Ricks has brain biology that predisposes him to violent behavior, a researcher said at his capital murder trial on Thursday.

Jeffrey Lewine, a neuroscience researcher for the Mind Research Network, a group of scientists who study mental illness, found that Ricks’ biochemical makeup tilts him toward violent responses. Lewine testified that he used several different imaging techniques to study Ricks’ brain.

This is the first time this type of testimony has been used in a criminal case in Texas, Lewine said.

Last week, a jury convicted Cedric Ricks of fatally stabbing his estranged girlfriend, Roxann Sanchez, 30, and her 8-year-old child, Anthony Figueroa. Ricks repeatedly stabbed Sanchez and her son, and then repeatedly stabbed the woman’s older son, 12-year-old Marcus Figueroa.

Marcus Figueroa barely escaped dying by mimicking the last breaths of his younger brother. Prosecutors Bob Gill and Robert Huseman are seeking the death penalty for Ricks.

“We tried everything we could to help him,” Helen Ricks, his mother, testified Thursday. “We tried whipping him, we went to counselors, we did what we could. We never thought we would be in a position like this, where he would be tried for murder.”

Images of Ricks’ brain showed he had one area, the putamen, that was larger than that area in the brains of control subjects, Lewine said. Larger putamens are associated with increased aggression, Lewine said. Ricks also scored high on a psychological exam that rates tendencies toward aggression and violent behavior and low on a test that rates emotional intelligence, Lewine said.

“Ricks ability to form and maintain long-term emotional relationships and read facial cues is impaired,” Lewine said.

Whatever method researchers used to look at Ricks’ brain the findings were the same, Lewine said. Ricks’ biology shows he leans toward violent behavior and biology is difficult to alter, he said.

“Across these tests we begin to see an emerging picture of someone who is biologically predisposed toward increased aggression and violent behavior,” Lewine said.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday in state District Judge Mollee Westfall’s court.

Read the full article here.

Law and Neuroscience

By Owen Jones, Rene Marois, Martha Farah, and Hank Greely | The Journal of Neuroscience | November 2013

Abstract

Law and neuroscience seem strange bedfellows. But the engagement of law with neuroscientific evidence was inevitable. For one thing, the effectiveness of legal systems in regulating behavior and meting out justice often depends on weighing evidence about how and why a person behaved as he or she did. And these are things that neuroscience can sometimes illuminate. For another, lawyers are ethically bound to champion their clients’ interests. So they remain alert for new, relevant, or potentially persuasive information, such as neuroscience may at times offer, that could help to explain or contextualize behavior of their clients. In light of this, and in the wake of remarkable growth in and visibility of neuroscientific research, a distinct field of Law & Neuroscience (sometimes called “neurolaw”) has emerged in barely a decade.

Whether this engagement is ultimately more for better or for worse (there will be both) will depend in large measure on the effectiveness of transdisciplinary partnerships between neuroscientists and legal scholars. How can they best help the legal system to understand both the promise and the perils of using neuroscientific evidence in legal proceedings? And how can they help legal decision-makers draw only legally and scientifically sound inferences about the relationships between particular neuroscientific evidence and particular behaviors?

In this article, we highlight some efforts to establish and expand such partnerships. We identify some of the key reasons why neuroscience may be useful to law, providing examples along the way. In doing so, we hope to further stimulate interdisciplinary communication and collaborative research in this area.

Read the full paper here.

Neuroscientists in Court

By Owen Jones, Anthony Wagner, David Faigman, and Marcus Raichle | Nature Reviews Neuroscience | September 12, 2013

Abstract:

Neuroscientific evidence is increasingly being offered in court cases. Consequently, the legal system needs neuroscientists to act as expert witnesses who can explain the limitations and interpretations of neuroscientific findings so that judges and jurors can make informed and appropriate inferences. The growing role of neuroscientists in court means that neuroscientists should be aware of important differences between the scientific and legal fields, and, especially, how scientific facts can be easily misunderstood by non-scientists, including judges and jurors.

This article describes similarities, as well as key differences, of legal and scientific cultures. And it explains six key principles about neuroscience that those in law need to know.

Read the full paper here.