How neurolaw is shaping the courtroom

The New York Times has an in-depth article on the increasing use of neuroscience evidence in court cases and how this is shaping concepts of justice and responsibility.

The article examines the science and technology which is being used as the basis of this evidence and questions whether courts are competent to use the knowledge.

It also looks at whether the notion of free will is being eroded by excusing criminal acts on the basis of disturbed brain function.

To suggest that criminals could be excused because their brains made them do it seems to imply that anyone whose brain isn’t functioning properly could be absolved of responsibility. But should judges and juries really be in the business of defining the normal or properly working brain? And since all behavior is caused by our brains, wouldn’t this mean all behavior could potentially be excused?

Proponents of neurolaw say that neuroscientific evidence will have a large impact not only on questions of guilt and punishment but also on the detection of lies and hidden bias, and on the prediction of future criminal behavior. At the same time, skeptics fear that the use of brain-scanning technology as a kind of super mind-reading device will threaten our privacy and mental freedom, leading some to call for the legal system to respond with a new concept of “cognitive liberty.”

If you want to keep track of developments in this area, you could do a lot worse than reading a great new blog called The Situationist from the Harvard Law School’s Project on Law and Mind Sciences.

It’s got some fantastic contributors and, so far, has published some great articles.

Finally, if you want a good academic review of the area and have access to the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, the feature article from the March edition is on ‘Cognitive Science and the Law’.

Unfortunately, neither of the authors have put the full version online, but the abstract is listed on PubMed.

Link to NYT article ‘The Brain on the Stand’.
Link to blog The Situationist.
Link to abstract of TiCS article ‘Cognitive Science and the Law’.

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