News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

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.

Video: Steven Pinker: “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century”

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, at the Bornstein Amphitheater at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, CLBB and the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry co-sponsored a talk by Steven Pinker, renowned Harvard cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular author, to discuss his most recent book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Video of the event is included below in its entirety and at our Vimeo page. Continue reading »

Watch: “Free Will: What Can Physiology Explain?”

While we may believe that we choose and direct our movements consciously, the physiology of human motor control provides compelling evidence that this sense of conscious decision – free will – is a perception only.

On Thursday, October 2, 2014, at the Bornstein Amphitheater at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, CLBB and the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry co-sponsored an event exploring how an understanding of human motor control can contribute to the question of free will. Video of the event is included below in its entirety and at our Vimeo page. Continue reading »

Dispatch: “Neuro-interventions and the Law” Conference

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

On September 12-14, 2014, the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium was held at Georgia State University. The topic, Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity, brought together leading scholars on philosophy, neuroscience, law, cognitive and clinical psychology, psychiatry, and bioethics. The participants included Judge Andre Davis, Nita Farahany, Stephen Morse, Francis Shen, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Nicole Vincent, and Paul Root Wolpe. The conference panels, talks, and keynotes addressed pressing issues about managing and appropriately utilizing novel neuroscientific technologies as they relate to legal issues. Continue reading »

Neuroscience and Cannabis: Implications for Law and Policy

April 18, 2024, 12:30 PM

Watch the recording here.

The legalization of cannabis has raised significant questions for law and public policy. In her annual lecture, neuroscientist Dr. Yasmin Hurd explored the science of cannabis, CBD, and the future of substance use disorder treatment. Dr. Stephanie Tabashneck moderated a discussion and audience Q&A about the implications for law and policy. 

PANELISTS:

Yasmin Hurd, PhD, Ward-Coleman Chair, Translational Neuroscience, Professor Psychiatry and Neuroscience; Director, Addiction Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Stephanie Tabasneck, PsyD, JD, Senior Fellow of Law and Applied Neuroscience, Center for Law Brain and Behavior at Harvard Medical School and Petrie-Flom Center; Licensed Psychologist; and Director, CLBB NeuroLaw Library

New Ideas for Substance Use Condition Treatment: Could Psychedelics Help?

March 19, 2024, 12:30 PM

Watch the recording here.

This event provided an overview of psychedelic treatments, including ibogaine and psilocybin, for substance use conditions. During this panel discussion, an ibogaine researcher, a certified recovery coach with lived experience, and a drug law expert discussed existing research, potential benefits and risks, ongoing policy and legal reforms, and societal implications.

PANELISTS:

Moderator: Stephanie Tabashneck, PsyD, JD, Senior Fellow of Law and Applied Neuroscience, Center for Law Brain and Behavior at Harvard Medical School and Petrie-Flom Center; Licensed Psychologist; and Director, Brain InCite Neurolaw Library

Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology and Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine; Director, Brain Endowment Bank at the University of Miami; and Chief Executive Officer and Founder, DemeRx

Mark Guckel, CCAR Recovery Coach Professional, EntheoRecovery Solutions, LLC

Mason Marks, MD, JD, Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Senior Fellow and Project Lead of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center; and Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor, Florida State University College of Law

CLBB Contributes to Landmark Decision by Mass Supreme Judicial Court to Ban Mandatory Life Sentences for 18- to 20-Year-Olds

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced on January 11, 2024 its decision that the state’s mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is unconstitutional for emerging and young adults ages 18 to 20 who are convicted of homicide. The long-awaited ruling in the case of Mattis vs. Massachusetts means that 203 incarcerated persons previously sentenced to LWOP will eventually be eligible for a parole or resentencing hearing after serving at least 15 years. Prior to the state’s highest court ruling, Massachusetts was only one of ten states with a LWOP mandatory sentence for persons over 18 who are found guilty of homicide. 

Research on Neurodevelopment

The 4-3 majority decision by the Court was based on the enormous body of scientific evidence about neurodevelopment demonstrating that an individual’s brain continues to develop well into their twenties. The brains of the 20-year-old and the 13-year-old are similar when it comes to acting on impulse, taking risks, seeking immediate reward and yielding to peer influence. “The scientific record strongly supports the contention that emerging adults have the same core neurological characteristics as juveniles have. As such, they must be granted a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” wrote Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd in the majority opinion.

Mattis Case

The case involved Sheldon Mattis who was sentenced to LWOP for involvement in a homicide in 2011, when he was 18 years old. The 17-year-old Nyasani Watt who fired the gun was just 10 days shy of his 18th birthday, and was tried and sentenced as a juvenile. In 2013 Massachusetts had banned mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles (under the age of 18) who were guilty of first-degree murder. Watt was therefore deemed eligible for a parole hearing after serving 15 years. Mattis, who was sentenced as an adult, will now have the same opportunity. 

2022 Ruling Upheld

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision upholds the 2022 finding by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Robert Ullman that mandatory life prison terms of adults under 21 constitute cruel or unusual punishment, which is banned by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. In 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court had rejected Mattis’ appeal, but expressed concern about the disparity in sentences that Mattis and Watt received. It directed Judge Ullman to undertake a review of the evolving research on brain development and to determine whether the prohibition on mandatory life sentences should be extended to 18- to 20-year-olds. He ruled that it should. “The Court concludes that there is a mismatch between the culpability of 18- through 20-year-olds as a class and mandatory life without parole sentences that preclude a judge from granting parole eligibility”, he wrote. 

Expert Testimony

Judge Ullman’s 32-page opinion was informed by live testimony from CLBB’s Executive Director Robert Kinscherff, PhD, JD, and national experts Adriana Galvan, PhD (UCLA) and Stephen Morse, JD, PhD (University of Pennsylvania) and by written testimony from Laurence Steinberg, PhD (Temple University). CLBB’s 2021 White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence was provided as an exhibit. 

Longstanding efforts through the courts to reform juvenile and young adult justice date back to cases in the 1960s, and include landmark cases such as the US Supreme Court’s ban in Roper v. Simmons (2005) of the death penalty for capital offenses committed under age 18. “With the findings of our two courts in Massachusetts, neuroscience in the law has come of age,” said Dr. Kinscherff. “We knew intuitively and experientially that there’s no hard line between adolescence and adulthood, but it took the advent of MRI and fMRI technologies to show us exactly why.”

Young, Vulnerable, and Betrayed: What can be done to help America’s most vulnerable children?

December 7, 2023, 12:00 PM ET

A child born in America today has a 37% chance of having their welfare investigated by the state by the time they turn 18. For black children, the probability rises to 53%. Over next 18 years, 145 million American children will be referred to child protective services. What does this mean? And what can be done about it?

This seminar was broken into two sections. First, Saul Glick, Senior International Fellow in Law, Policy, and Applied Neuroscience, and Kathryn Spearman, registered nurse and PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins, discussed their research and upcoming paper on the impact crime related events are having on America’s children and the system which is designed to protect them. 

Second, Saul discussed the novel intervention, C.A.R.E. (Child At Risk Evaluation), which he designed to enhance the training, data gathering, and information sharing techniques used by frontline mandatory reporters. C.A.R.E. will be piloted in early 2024 in a mid-sized American city. 

PANELISTS:

Saul Glick, MA is the International Fellow for Law, Policy, and Neuroscience for the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience a collaboration between the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain and Behavior (CLBB) and the Petrie-Flom Center. After graduating with an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, Saul joined London’s Metropolitan Police Service (Met), where he was a police constable (PC), a public order (demonstrations and protests) officer, and attached to various detective units. In 2021, Saul won the Kennedy Scholarship, which annually sends British post-grads on full scholarship to either Harvard or MIT; Saul was a special student attached to Harvard’s psychology department.

Kathryn Spearman, MSN, RN is a pediatric nurse and a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing whose doctoral training is funded through a F31 training grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development. Ms. Spearman’s research focuses on intimate partner violence (IPV) and child maltreatment, firearm injury prevention, IPV-related homicides of women and children, and risk-assessment. Her scientific inquiry is informed by clinical experience working as a pediatric nurse with abused children in inpatient and residential treatment settings. Her BS and MSN are from the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, respectively, and she earned a graduate certificate in maternal child health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  

Aligning Criminal Practice with Addiction Science

December 12, 2023, 12:30 PM ET

Watch the recording here!

Drawing on the science of substance use disorders (SUD), this presentation focused on legal responses to SUD that contradict neuroscience and behavioral research, such as incarcerating individuals on probation following a relapse. Implications for bail, sentencing, probation, and parole will be discussed as well as client-centered considerations. The presentation also included science-informed criminal justice approaches that support treatment and recovery.

PANELISTS:

Introduction: Susannah Baruch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center

Lisa Newman-Polk, Esq., LCSW, Lead counsel for Julie Eldred in Commonwealth v. Eldred 

Stephanie Tabashneck, PsyD, JD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Center for Law, Brain and Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center