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Haederle (2010) A Mind of Crime

Haederle (2010) A Mind of Crime - A Mind of Crime How...

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Will the new neuroscience undermine our legal system? Brain-scanning technology is redefining criminal culpability. February 23, 2010 A Mind of Crime How brain-scanning technology is redefining criminal culpability. By Michael Haederle K ent Kiehl, a prominent neuroscientist hired to study an admitted murderer named Brian Dugan, had already been under cross-examination in the hushed, wood-paneled suburban Chicago courtroom for more than an hour when a brain diagram, hatched with X’s, was projected on a screen. The X’s marked areas where Kiehl had discovered abnormally low grey matter density in Dugan’s brain. In a curious meeting of law and neuroscience, those X’s would help jurors decide whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison. Did the way Dugan’s brain had developed leave him spring-loaded for violence? Or had he chosen freely when he abducted, raped and killed a 10-year-old girl in 1983? Defense attorneys had brought in Kiehl and other experts to prove that Dugan was a psychopath incapable of experiencing normal emotions like remorse, in hopes the jury could be persuaded to sentence him to life in prison, rather than death. Kiehl has interviewed and used new technologies to scan the brains of more imprisoned criminals than anyone else in the world. Here, he was asking jurors to accept that the brains of some criminals are simply different from the norm and that those differences should be considered during sentencing. “There are abnormalities in his brain function,” the tall, broad-shouldered Kiehl told the jury. Psychopaths make choices, he acknowledged, but “those choices are not necessarily informed by emotion in the same way ours are.” The hearing last fall marked the first time Kiehl, an expert in functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans, had testified in court, and his presentation may well have been the first time fMRI had been used in this way. It was also a classic example of the conflicts that arise when law and neuroscience — disciplines that make competing claims about human nature — intersect, as they increasingly do. T he law sees people essentially as rational actors, capable of forming intentions, weighing the consequences of their actions and controlling their behavior. As old as civilization itself, the law is inherently conservative, circumscribed by rules and precedent, and rooted in ancient notions of morality and justice. The law is clear: Those who break the rules we have collectively agreed upon make a choice, and those poor choices should be punished. Change in the law usually comes slowly and incrementally, in an orderly interplay of legislation and appellate decision-making that may embrace changing social and scientific norms long after they have gained currency elsewhere.
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