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Criminal Minds: Use Of Neuroscience As A Defense Skyrockets

Publication Date: 
November 09, 2012
U.S. News & World Report - Education
Jason Koebler

Professor Hank Greely spoke with U.S. News and World Report's Jason Koebler on the increase of use of neuroscience as a defense by Criminal Defense lawyers and why the argument can still be a risky one. 

Criminal defense lawyers are increasingly using brain scans and other neurological evidence to defend their clients, according to a new study.

Neuroscience advances in recent years haven't gotten to Minority Report-levels yet, but some scientists believe they can explain—if not predict—criminal activity based on brain scans. The advances have led more lawyers, especially upon appeal, to try to explain their clients' mental makeup as the reason for their criminal behavior.


The practice has become so commonplace that Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford, says many lawyers would be smart to look into a brain scan for their clients.

"These brain scans are poker chips—if you can throw in some more evidence, it might confuse the jury, and it increases the calculation about when one settles," he says. "Many of these cases are appeals where defendants argue they had ineffective counsel after they've been convicted. They say the trial lawyer was an idiot because he didn't get my brain scanned."


That argument can keep a prisoner off of death row, but it can also backfire, Greely says.

"The other edge of the sword is that it can show a guy is a 'natural born killer,'" he says. "If he's certain to offend again, the jury could put in a longer sentence or could choose to execute him."