Criminal Justice

Brain Secrets Study Could Change Courts

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A $10 million multidisciplinary brain secrets study launched today could eventually bring big changes to the nation’s courtrooms.

With the help of 25 participating universities, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is bringing “lawyers, judges, philosophers, legal scholars and scientists together to address how to use in the courtroom breakthroughs in neuroscience,” reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Known as the Law and Neuroscience Project, it will be made up of three working groups focusing on legal issues concerning addiction; brain damage caused by accident, disease or genetic defect; and normal decision-making. The latter working group could try to determine, for instance, “how greed or temptation might drive people with ‘normal’ brains to commit white-collar crimes, or how judges and juries assess guilt and determine punishment,” the newspaper writes.

The project is expected to last three years, and ultimately result in policy recommendations and materials of use to judges, attorneys and law professors concerning the appropriate courtroom application of brain science.

“One way or another, neuroscience is entering the legal system,” says Owen D. Jones, a law and biology professor at Vanderbilt University. “Our goal is to ensure it doesn’t do so in a haphazard way.”

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