- Today courts rarely admit brain scans as evidence at trial for both legalistic and scientific reasons. As neuroscience matures, however, judges may increasingly see such scans as relevant to arguments about a defendant’s mental state or a witness’s credibility.
- The greatest influence of brain science on the law may eventually come from deeper understanding of the neurological causes of antisocial, illegal behaviors. Future discoveries could lay the foundation for new types of criminal defenses, for example.
- Yet neurological insights might also upend traditional ideas about personal responsibility and just punishments. The courts—and the rest of society—should therefore proceed with caution in their adoption of findings from neuroscience.
By a strange coincidence, I was called to jury duty for my very first time shortly after I started as director of a new MacArthur Foundation project exploring the issues that neuroscience raises for the criminal justice system. Eighty of us showed up for selection in a case that involved a young woman charged with driving under the influence, but most of my fellow citizens were excused for various reasons, primarily their own DUI experiences. Finally, I was called to the judge. “Tell me what you do,” he said.
“I am a neuroscientist,” I answered, “and I have actually done work relevant to what goes on in a courtroom. For example, I have studied how false memories form, the nature of addiction, and how the brain regulates behavior.”
This article was originally published with the title Neuroscience in the Courtroom.