David Freedman and Simona Zaami
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Available online 2 April 2019
Neuroscience has already changed how the law understands an individual's cognitive processes, how those processes shape behavior, and how bio-psychosocial history and neurodevelopmental approaches provide information, which is critical to understanding mental states underlying behavior, including criminal behavior. In this paper, we briefly review the state of forensic assessment of mental conditions in the relative culpability of criminal defendants, focused primarily on the weaknesses of current approaches. We then turn to focus on neuroscience approaches and how they have the potential to improve assessment, but with significant risks and limitations.
From the Conclusion:
This approach is not a cure-all. Understanding and explaining specific behaviors is a difficult undertaking, and explaining the mental condition of the person engaged in those behaviors at the time the behaviors took place is even more difficult. Yet, the law requires some degree of reliability and rigorous, honest presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of the science being relied upon to form opinions. Despite the dramatic advances understanding the neural bases of cognition and functioning, neuroscience does not yet reliably describe how those processes emerge in a specific environmental context (Poldrack et al., 2018), nor what an individual was thinking, feeling, experiencing, understanding, or intending at a particular moment in time (Freedman & Woods, 2018; Greely & Farahany, 2019).
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