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See Inside April 2005

Neuroscience and the Law

If scientists can prove that the brain determines the mind, lawyers could convince juries that defendants may not be responsible for their crimes

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Imagine you are a juror for a horrific murder case. Harry is the defendant. You sit down with 11 of your peers--people who may not be up on the latest scientific understanding about human behavior. Most of the jurors have never heard the word "neuroscience" nor given a moment's thought to the concept of "free will." And you know that most jurors have little patience for criminal-defense arguments based on such notions as "temporary insanity." The jurors are there to determine whether Harry committed the crime, and if they decide he did, they will deliver their verdict without regret. But have they considered whether Harry acted freely or as an inevitable consequence of his brain and his past experiences?

Although advances in neuroscience continue at a rapid pace, their ethical and legal implications are only beginning to be taken into account. The link between the brain and behavior is much closer than the link between genes and behavior, yet the public debate about the legal implications of genetic findings far outweighs that given to brain research.

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