Did His Mind Make Him Do It? How Neuroscience Entered the Courtroom

Caleb Carr in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_2637 Mar. 21 15.50Since ancient philosophers first began to ponder the problem of criminal behavior, great minds in science and law have sought a single holy grail, the point at which the two fields intersect: What nervous or brain dysfunctions can explain how people become so incapacitated that they are not responsible for their own criminal behavior?

The latest candidate is neuroscience. With functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRIs), positron emission tomography (PET scans) and other related methods, scientists can observe the brain in action as it responds to various forms of stimuli. Yet this is an obscure, highly specialized world; group studies in a laboratory, most scientists maintain, cannot yet be applied to the behavior of an individual, especially an individual’s commission of a violent crime.

But defense lawyers have rushed to bring brain scans into courtrooms. Some of what they propose is out-and-out chicanery; some may hold real value; whatever the case, the job of piloting the public through the complex neuroscientific maze — in order that potential jurors may better judge whether a violent offender should be condemned to death, to a long or life sentence in America’s barbaric present-day prison system, or should have their sentences reduced or changed because of a brain irregularity or insult — is vital to society.

The latest person to offer his services as guide in this regard is Kevin Davis, in “The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms.”

More here.