Neuroscience and the Law

MRI’s have been used in court before as evidence against and for defendants and victims. These brain-imaging devices use a very strong magnet to detect when there is more oxygen in a certain part of the brain which will show activity there. For example, when we are listening to music we will see increased activity in the temporal lobe, which is responsible for selective hearing and listening. But how could this be useful in court? Well, fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) can read what we are thinking about. Whether it be about what we want to eat, or how to answer a question. This could lead to very accurate fMRI-based lie detector tests that could be used in court. Some lie detectors that are used today can be tricked and won’t always be 100% correct, but actually reading what the brain is doing, and where the activity is occurring is much more accurate. It can also be mentally scary for a defendant. They know that no matter what the truth will come out so they might as well confess. However, there are some downsides of fMRI. This new technology can help decipher mental states but a lot of the time, true inspiration or reason for committing crimes will not be discovered. We may not be able to rely on these tests as strong evidence, nor should be put a lot of weight into how much it will mean to a jury or judge. Furthermore,judges nor jury should be required to analyze the results of these tests themselves. Each side will need to bring in a neuroscientist to explain and analyze the given results. This can also bring misinterpretation because lawyers are trained to ask questions to the specialist that will give their side an advantage. Also, the two sides could have specialists that disagree with each other on the findings.   I recommend that we do admit and use the fMRI evidence in court, but with restrictions. The fMRI images and analysis should give evidence that clearly sides with either the defendant or prosecution, but the entire case should not be in the balance of the results. It should merely be used as affirmation of guilt or innocence.

One response to “Neuroscience and the Law”

  1. Whitney Grace Wilson says:

    I just don’t believe that the current technology is definitive enough to be used in a court case as it may sway the jurors in one direction due to merely the appeal of a “scientific picture” rather that what it may actually prove.

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