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

An Anxious Defendant or an Anxious Defense Team?

By Judith Edersheim, JD, MD; CLBB Co-director

Yesterday, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius presented himself to Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital to begin a month long psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation was ordered by the judge presiding in his case after his defense attorney called a witness to describe his mental state at the time he shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster testified that Mr. Pistorius suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder, and that when faced with a “fight or flight situation,” his instinct is to fight. The defense team’s introduction of this kind of evidence this late in the game opened a kind of psychiatric second front for the prosecution. Did introduction of this evidence signal that Mr. Pistorius is backing away from the claim that he acted reasonably in favor of the idea that he acted under the influence of a mental disorder? Is there credible evidence that he had a serious mental disorder and, if so, would it “count” for exculpation or mitigation? Could a closer examination of these claims “backfire” and seal Mr. Pistorius’ fate? Continue reading »

Psychiatric Tests Raise Question of Pistorius’s Criminal Liability

By Alan Cowell | The New York Times | May 22, 2014

Oscar Pistorius

In more than just miles, it is a long way from Olympic Stadium in London to the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, but that is the journey that Oscar Pistorius is about to complete.

Less than two years after he was celebrated at the 2012 Olympic Games as the first disabled athlete to compete against able-bodied runners, Mr. Pistorius on Tuesday was ordered by the judge presiding over his murder trial in Pretoria to present himself as an outpatient at the Weskoppies hospital for up to 30 days of psychiatric assessment.

Starting Monday, a panel of mental health experts will seek to determine whether Mr. Pistorius, in the words of Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, was “capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or acting in accordance with appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act” when he opened fire on a locked bathroom door at his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Continue reading »