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

Mandatory Minimum Sentences are Cruel and Ineffective. Sessions Wants Them Back.

By Nancy Gertner | The Washington Post | May 15, 2017

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer. Continue reading »

Judge Gorsuch is More Dangerous Than He Appears

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | April 3, 2017

He sounds so judicial. He talks about neutrality, raising plain vanilla issues about deference to the expertise of administrative agencies. It is boring, hardly likely to engender indignation. He says his decisions are required by the law — not affected by his own background. He is Judge Neil Gorsuch and he may soon be on the Supreme Court. Don’t be fooled. His approach is not neutral, not required by the law, and far out of the mainstream. Quite apart from social issues like abortion or gay rights, his approach could gut health and safety and antidiscrimination laws. Continue reading »

How ‘Confused’ Could Jeff Sessions Have Been?

By Nancy Gertner | The Boston Globe | March 6, 2017

That Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a false statement under oath before a congressional committee is clear. He said, “I did not have communications with the Russians,” when in fact he had met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The only question is what the consequences should be. Continue reading »

Hard Time Gets a Hard Look by Judge Nancy Gertner

The Harvard Gazette covers a new Harvard Law School course led by CLBB’s Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), which approaches the problem of mass incarceration from interdisciplinary perspectives. The course, also co-taught by Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard Kennedy School, examines the origins of U.S. mass incarceration and helps students generate solutions to the issue. About the course and faculty, Judge Gertner notes:

“Each of us in different ways has been teaching and working on the problem of criminal justice policy. We thought there would be some unique value in bringing together three perspectives: the social science on problems of crime and criminal justice, the perspective of policy research and analysis, and law.

None of us ever believed that we would be in a world in which people are talking about reducing incarceration and letting people out of prison…. the discussion goes from the abstract to the concrete.”

About her experience with the problem of mass incarceration and commitment to resolving it, she comments on her time as a federal judge:

“Eighty percent of sentences that I was obliged to impose in drug cases were unjust, disproportionate, and inequitable, she told the class of working as judge within a strict sentencing framework ushered in by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. After retiring in 2011, she embarked “on a trajectory of wanting to know more,” she said, and pressing for change.

Read the full article, “Hard Time Gets a Hard Look”, by Colleen Walsh, published by the Harvard Gazette on November 29, 2016.

Justice Denied in the Bronx

By Nancy Gertner | New York Law Journal | May 13, 2016

Access to justice means more than fancy courthouses, a courtroom with high ceilings, the American flag unfurled, and even compelling quotes from the U.S. Constitution. Access to justice means more than a presiding judge looking dignified in a long black robe, on an elevated platform, with the lawyers before him or her. Access to justice is not a Kabuki show—the ceremony of justice but not the reality.

But to those accused of misdemeanor offenses in the Bronx, a court proceeding is just a hollow ritual. According to the lawsuit filed by The Bronx Defenders, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, and Morrison & Foerster, there are few trials, no opportunity to confront witnesses, no way to challenge the government’s case, no opportunity to be publicly vindicated in a speedy proceeding, and unconscionable delays. Continue reading »