Brain-Scan Evidence Revolutionizes Capital Punishment Cases


The New York Times Magazine reports that the use of neuroscientific evidence in death-penalty litigation is having a revolutionary effect in that niche of criminal justice. One expert said, “Some sort of organic brain defense has become de rigueur in any sort of capital defense.” Lawyers routinely order scans of convicted defendants' brains and argue that a neurological impairment prevented them from controlling themselves. The prosecution counters that the evidence shouldn't be admitted, but it usually is.

The extent of that revolution is hotly debated, but the influence of what some call neurolaw is clearly growing. Neuroscientific evidence has persuaded jurors to sentence defendants to life imprisonment rather than to death; courts have also admitted brain-imaging evidence during criminal trials to support claims that defendants like John W. Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Reagan, are insane. At the same time, skeptics fear that the use of brain-scanning technology as a kind of super mind-reading device will threaten our privacy and mental freedom.


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