Neurolaw

Neuroscience technology has a great potential to change the way the court system works and how a jury reaches a verdict. Recently,  judges have increasingly let brain imaging into their courtroom to stand as evidence to argue that possible criminals are not morally responsible for their crimes because of the state of their brain (low activity in empathy, impulse, and decision-making regions). However, one must ask if such technology is advanced and accurate enough to be used in court, and if it can be taken advantage of by criminals to get away with their crimes. I believe that neuroscience technology should not be allowed in the court room until further improvements, except for a select handful of special cases where the technology could be accurate and not bias the jury.

In the past, polygraph tests were used to determine the guilt of a subject. However, these tests were not accurate, because they measure things that can easily be manipulated by control, such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Thus, these tests are not seen as an appropriate tool to determine the guilt of criminals anymore. However, there is now functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that has been used in court rooms in more present times. fMRI tracks oxygenated blood flow in the brain and follows increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain that can be associated with traits or actions.  However, fMRI does not track neurons, only blood flow, and the rest is inferred. So how precise can this method be, exactly?

Another example of inaccuracy in fMRI’s can be drawn from Brian Dugan’s 2009 case. His brain was scanned nearly 26 years after he committed his crime. If 25% of the prison population is psychopathic, couldn’t it be argued that Dugan’s brain began showing psychopathic behavior only after he committed his crime, or even possibly from spending so much time in prison?  It is fully possible that Dugan was in his right mind when he raped and killed a young girl, yet the judge for his 2009 case allowed brain imaging to be described (not viewed) in his case.

I am not disputing fMRI and brain imaging for criminals altogether. Rather, I am saying that for the current time, it is best to be cautious. Not only can fMRI be inaccurate, but it is proven that juries can be misled but scientific evidence that uses new, fancy technology. Juries can be tricked into believing that the science behind the evidence is more reliable than it actually is. I believe that until fMRI technology progresses, brain imaging should only be used to decide sentencing, not a guilty/non-guilty verdict. And for this to be accurate, this practice of using fMRI to decide sentencing should only be allowed if the images were taken within a short amount of time of the crime committed. With these precautions, the the jury would not be influenced to let a criminal get away with his crime. The jury could instead help the criminal get the help that they need, if they reach the decision that some of the criminal’s time should be spent in a mental hospital.

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