Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.
The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior puts the most accurate and actionable neuroscience in the hands of judges, lawyers, policymakers and journalists—people who shape the standards and practices of our legal system and affect its impact on people’s lives. We work to make the legal system more effective and more just for all those affected by the law.
The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior presents a variety of lectures and events each year, along with those in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School and the Boston Society of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. This Spring 2022, CLBB presented seven events on topics including addiction, juvenile justice and the courts, and elder fraud and abuse.
During his tenure as CLBB Executive Director, Dr. Francis Shen teamed with CLBB student research assistants to provide the first empirical analysis of how courts are receiving arguments favoring raising the age above 18 for Eighth Amendment constitutional protections.
In Fall 2021, law students at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) under the direction of Professor Stevie Leahy began investigation into the current state of law and public policy regarding the sentencing of juvenile offenders across the United States. This investigation was prompted by the Spring 2021 decision by the US Supreme Court in Jones v. Mississippi. Many experts consider Jones to signal the end of increasing 8th Amendment protections for juveniles under a series of cases since 2005. In its wake, Jones will now leave the requirements of juvenile sentencing to the discretion of individual courts and/or legislatures. The NUSL students (known as Law Office 7) completed this project in March 2022 and released their analysis and recommendations as Juvenile (in) Justice: The Role of Science and Advocacy in Juvenile Justice Post-Jones. CLBB served as a partner organization for this project, which coincided with their publication of a detailed whitepaper aligning scientific research with prior factors considered by courts in juvenile sentencing. CLBB Executive Director Dr. Robert Kinscherff and Affiliated Faculty Judge Jay Blitzman (ret.) consulted with the students, with Judge Blitzman bringing his nationally recognized expertise in this area. Armand Coleman, Executive Director at the Transformational Prison Project, also provided his guidance and expertise to the students. The research by Law Office 7 confirms that a lack of clarity and specific requirements within juvenile sentencing decisions increases disparities in “justice by geography” when it comes to sentencing outcomes.
In September of 2020, the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital convened a virtual Neuroscience Summit with legal scholars and attorneys, neuroscientists, physicians and psychologists from multiple specialties, and members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. The Summit’s focus was: The science of emerging adulthood: What do we know and how might this knowledge be appropriately applied in the law?
The impetus for the Summit was a series of landmark United States Supreme Court decisions between 2005 – 2016 in which the Court clarified that the developmental immaturity of youth who committed crimes under age 18 offered them protection under the Eighth Amendment that bars their execution, life sentences without possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes, and imposition of mandatory life without possibility of parole for homicides. Further litigation of the reach of Eighth Amendment protections for juveniles was anticipated and, in fact, the Supreme Court issued another decision bearing upon what procedures are required in sentencing juveniles for capital offenses in April 2021 in Jones v. Mississippi.
In this line of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court increasingly relied upon developmental neuroscience and related areas of developmental social sciences. The Court also relied upon developmental sciences in ruling in JDB. v. North Carolina (2011) that a youth’s age must be a factor considered in determining their capacity to waive their Miranda rights when interrogated by police. These cases sparked litigation in state and federal courts about whether Eighth Amendment protections afforded youth under age 18 should be extended to older adolescents and emerging young adults. As a result, State legislatures have also begun to consider extending juvenile court jurisdiction or the age of full criminal culpability beyond age 18. Further, State juvenile justice and correctional authorities have begun considering reforms to better align responses developmentally in preventing or responding to misconduct by adolescents and emerging adults.
These litigated cases and policy initiatives could signal a sea-change in how we attempt to support positive youth development, prevent youthful crime, and foster rehabilitation and community safety when crimes are committed. However, the success of science- based law and policy initiatives remains uncertain and hotly contested.
It is into this complex and dynamic context that CLBB releases the White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys, and Policy Makers. This White Paper is the product of the Neuroscience Summit and intensive multidisciplinary collaboration over the months since the Summit. We anticipate that it will have significant and enduring impact nationally in shaping litigation, legislation, and practice across multiple professions and systems that interact with juveniles, late adolescents, and emerging adults.
We hope that you find it helpful in your own thinking about the role of developmental neuroscience and related developmental research in fostering positive outcomes for our young persons, their families, and our communities. As importantly, we hope that it provides information that can support science-based policies, practices, reforms, and innovations which you and others will devise and implement.