Stanford's Hank Greely puts neuroscience on trial

February 21, 2010

A lawyer is trying to convince a jury that his client really is crazy. It's usually a tough argument to sell in a court of law. But what if the lawyer has a picture of his client's brain that shows there's something biologically wrong with it? Can that evidence help persuade a jury? Should it even be allowed as evidence?

Those are some of the questions that will be addressed during a presentation and mock trial scheduled from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego.

Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor and expert on the legal, ethical and social issues surrounding the biosciences, will take on the role of prosecutor during a presentation titled "The Brain on Trial: Neuroscience Evidence in the Courtroom."

"The prosecutor's typical position is that brain scan evidence shouldn't be used because they say it's not scientifically useful," Greely said. "They say it will confuse the jury, that it's not relevant, that the technology isn't good enough yet. But most of all, they'll say that's fine that you found this person has an abnormal brain - but how many other people have similar abnormalities and don't commit crimes? The answer will be: quite a few."

With no hard-and-fast rules on whether neuroscience evidence should be allowed in state and federal courts, Greely is studying criminal cases in California that have featured brain scan images to help prove guilt or maintain innocence.

He's so far found that defense attorneys are more likely than prosecutors to try using neuroscience evidence, but he cautions that the tool is a double-edged sword.

While an MRI result showing a deformed or malfunctioning could conjure empathy and a finding of innocence, it could also lead jurors and judges to opt for convictions and long sentences based on the assumption that such a damaged mind will only convince the person using it to offend again.

"Neuroscience evidence will probably mostly be used alongside behavioral evidence," Greely said. "There will always be behavioral evidence to show a defendant was crazy as a loon. will be able to further hammer home the idea that the person truly has a problem."

Explore further: New lie detection technology worries Stanford ethicist

Related Stories

New lie detection technology worries Stanford ethicist

May 3, 2006

For many, the phrase "lie detection" probably brings to mind an image of a polygraph machine and an intimidating movie-style interrogation, possibly with a subject who could expertly "beat the polygraph." But ethicist and ...

What do you have in mind? Ethical questions in neuroscience

November 14, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- New methods for examining and influencing brain activity have led to better treatments for disabling neurological and psychiatric diseases, but they also pose ethical questions about their use inside and ...

The court will now call its expert witness: the brain

November 20, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Will advances in neuroscience make the justice system more accurate and unbiased? Or could brain-based testing wrongly condemn some and trample the civil liberties of others? The new field of neurolaw is ...

fMRI scans used in murder trial sentencing

November 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans have been used, possibly for the first time, in the sentencing phase of a murder trial in Chicago in the US.

Mind reading, brain fingerprinting and the law

January 20, 2010

What if a jury could decide a man's guilt through mind reading? What if reading a defendant's memory could betray their guilt? And what constitutes 'intent' to commit murder? These are just some of the issues debated and ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.