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Sunday, September 29, 2019

The brain, the criminal and the courts

A graph shows the number of mentions of neuroscience in judicial opinions in US cases from 2005 to 2015. Capital and noncapital homicides are shown, as well as other felonies. For the three categories added together, the authors found 101 mentions in 2005 and more than 400 in 2015. All three categories show growth.Eryn Brown
knowablemagazine.org
Originally posted August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

It remains to be seen if all this research will yield actionable results. In 2018, Hoffman, who has been a leader in neurolaw research, wrote a paper discussing potential breakthroughs and dividing them into three categories: near term, long term and “never happening.” He predicted that neuroscientists are likely to improve existing tools for chronic pain detection in the near future, and in the next 10 to 50 years he believes they’ll reliably be able to detect memories and lies, and to determine brain maturity.

But brain science will never gain a full understanding of addiction, he suggested, or lead courts to abandon notions of responsibility or free will (a prospect that gives many philosophers and legal scholars pause).

Many realize that no matter how good neuroscientists get at teasing out the links between brain biology and human behavior, applying neuroscientific evidence to the law will always be tricky. One concern is that brain studies ordered after the fact may not shed light on a defendant’s motivations and behavior at the time a crime was committed — which is what matters in court. Another concern is that studies of how an average brain works do not always provide reliable information on how a specific individual’s brain works.

“The most important question is whether the evidence is legally relevant. That is, does it help answer a precise legal question?” says Stephen J. Morse, a scholar of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He is in the camp who believe that neuroscience will never revolutionize the law, because “actions speak louder than images,” and that in a legal setting, “if there is a disjunct between what the neuroscience shows and what the behavior shows, you’ve got to believe the behavior.” He worries about the prospect of “neurohype,” and attorneys who overstate the scientific evidence.

The info is here.

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