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

Chism Defense to Focus on Juvenile Brain Development as Prosecution Rests

By Rupa Shenoy | WGBH | December 1, 2015

The murder trial of 16-year-old Philip Chism case is playing out as the state and country dramatically changes the way it adjudicates juvenile crime. For the defense team, that means there are very specific things to prove as the jury decides whether Chism is or is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors for the Commonwealth rested their case Monday against Chism, who is charged with first-degree murder with atrocity and cruelty. Chism, of Danvers, is charged as an adult in the death of his math teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Continue reading »

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.

A Child Who Kills Is Still A Child

By Simon Waxman | Cognoscenti | 2 January 2014

I couldn’t say for sure when I first learned I was an adult, but there’s a good chance it was June 6, 1998. On that day, I had my bar mitzvah. All I had to do was recite a small portion of Torah. Though I would continue for a while the youthful activities that had until then occupied my time — homework, obsessive cataloging of baseball cards, assiduous avoidance of girls (no longer icky, but still terrifying) — I had earned adult status.

The status, I later discovered, was a fiction, but without consequences. For some people, though, the consequences of fictitious adulthood can be significant.

If there are good reasons to treat adult and youth offenders differently, why are those reasons discarded according to the severity of the crime?

One such person is Philip Chism. His name provokes no sympathy, nor should it. But it should provoke a degree of puzzlement.

In October, Chism, who is 14, allegedly murdered his Danvers High School teacher, Colleen Ritzer. When, according to the indictment against him, he stabbed her to death, he became, in the eyes of the law, an adult. Yet when he also allegedly robbed and raped her, crimes that appear to have occurred in the same school bathroom, during same 12-minute span, he was a child. Today, he stands accused as an adult murderer and as a juvenile thief and rapist.

Read the full article here.

Why Sentencing Children As Adults Is A Bad Idea

By Jean Troustine | Boston Magazine | November 1, 2013

As tight-knit Danvers mourns the tragic death of Colleen Ritzer, the 24-year-old math teacher found dead last week near Danvers High School, there’s some concern with what could be another potential tragedy. Ritzer’s accused killer, Philip Chism, a 14-year-old Danvers High student, is being held for murder, and in spite of his age, will be tried as an adult in an adult court.

What that means for Chism is not entirely clear given that a Grand Jury has not yet officially indicted him for first- or second-degree murder and that the laws for juveniles are in limbo, but the state’s history of juveniles being tried and sentenced as adults paints a bleak picture for youth.

Since 1996, Massachusetts has had a law on the books that’s one of the harshest in the nation, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for Fair Sentencing for Youth. Unlike nearly every other state in the country, Massachusetts requires a trial in the adult criminal court for anyone who is 14 or older and charged with murder. Since Chism has been arraigned as an adult and will be tried in an adult court, there is no mechanism for the current case to be moved into the juvenile court system.

Read the full article here.