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Courtroom First: Brain Scan Used In Murder Sentencing

Publication Date: 
November 23, 2009
Wired Science
Alexis Madrigal

Professor Hank Greely, an expert in law and the biosciences, is quoted in this Wired Science article on using a defendant's fMRI brain scan in the sentencing portion of a murder trial in Chicago:

A defendant’s fMRI brain scan has been used in court for what is believed to be the first time.

Brain scan evidence that the defense claimed shows the defendant’s brain was psychopathic was allowed into the sentencing portion of a murder trial in Chicago, Science reported Monday. Brian Dugan, who had been convicted of the rape and murder of a 10-year old, was sentenced to death, despite the fMRI scans.

"I don’t know of any other cases where fMRI was used in that context," Stanford professor Hank Greely told Science.


"The penalty phase of a capital case … is a special situation where the law bends over backwards to allow the convicted man to introduce just about any mitigating evidence," Greely noted.

Earlier this year, reported on another attempt to use fMRI evidence in which Greely’s MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project was involved. In that case, fMRI evidence was entered into a juvenile sexual abuse case in San Diego, but was withdrawn without being admitted.


Others like Greely argue that until studies are conducted under realistic settings, the technology should stay out of the courtroom.