Lawyers Cite Evidence on Brain Development to Reduce Criminal Liability


More lawyers are arguing that some defendants deserve special consideration because they have brains that are immature or impaired, Duke law and philosophy Prof. Nita Farahany tells NPR. About 5 percent of murder trials now involve some neuroscience. Farahany says, “There’s a steady increase of defendants seeking to introduce neuroscience to try to reduce the extent to which they’re responsible or the extent to which they’re punished for a crime.”

Judges and juries are being swayed by studies showing that adolescent brains don’t function the same way adult brains do. One study was presented last week in San Diego to the Society for Neuroscience by Kristina Caudle of Weill Cornell Medical College. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, used a technology called functional MRI to look at how the brains of people from 6 to 29 reacted to a threat. The typical response is to become less impulsive and not to act when there is threat in the environment, she says. “But what we saw was that adolescents uniquely seemed to be more likely to act. So their performance on this task became more impulsive.”

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