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Prof. Explores Legal Role Of Neuroscience

Publication Date: 
November 05, 2007
The Stanford Daily
Nikhil Joshi

Hank Greely and Larry Kramer are quoted in this Stanford Daily story about a recent MacArthur Foundation grant that will fund groundbreaking research at the intersection of law and neuroscience. Greely, who directs the Center for Law and the Biosciences, has been a pioneer of "neurolaw" and a leading voice on ""neuroethics." The Daily reports:

Law School Prof. Hank Greely ‘74 is part of a nationwide group of researchers centered at UC-Santa Barbara that recently received a $10 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to study the ways in which neuroscience can be applied to the justice system.

Greely’s research could alter the way we think about criminal and civil justice.

“Advances in neuroscience and our understanding of how the brain functions have both immediate and long term implications for the legal system,” Law School Dean Larry Kramer told The Daily in an email. “As advances in neuroscience teach us to understand this better, we cannot help but change the way law deals with a wide variety of problems.”


“The more excited we get about what happens if it works,” Greely warned, “the more we must remember that we don’t know if it does work.”

If the new technology does prove to be reliable — and Greely puts the odds of this happening at below 50 percent — it will raise a number of constitutional issues, as defendants and witnesses may be obligated to take lie detector tests.

“A judge could conceivably issue a warrant on someone’s mind,” Greely said.

Current constitutional protections were not written in anticipation of advances in neuroscience and would not offer much defense against the aggressive use of neuroscience in trials. Greely argued that the First Amendment does not currently guarantee freedom of thought, and that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination only applies to testimony. MRI tests may be put under the same non-testimonial category as breathalyser tests, he said.

If neurological advances occur in the near future, Greely warned that the Bill of Rights may not be expanded to address neuroscience.

“Our current Supreme Court is not highly likely to extend rights,” he said.