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The Case For and Against The Courts’ Use of Neuroscientific Evidence

In the criminal justice system, there has been a huge push to include new types of evidence that have been the byproduct of significant technological discoveries. In recent history, courts have been moving toward admitting such evidence, but this admission has led to significant controversy, especially when the data is new, its impact has not fully be discovered, and it may create a prejudice against the criminal defendant, even under circumstances where the evidence is supposed to help the defendant.

What is Neuroscientific Evidence?

Neuroscience has begun to have its place in the courtroom; however, the applicability of neuroscientific evidence and its use in a criminal proceeding is still relatively new and inexperienced. For many, the introduction of brain scans and neuropsychological tests into evidence is to not only lessen the sentences, but also to exculpate the defendant from all charges. In other words, defendants are hoping that these brain scans and neuropsychological tests will state,” my brain is the real culprit behind the crime. I didn’t have a choice.”

The Increasing Use of Neuroscience

The use of neuroscience, despite its controversy, has been introduced in more than 1,600 judicial opinions, reflecting that between 2005 and 2012, the use of neuroscience has more than doubled. Largely the evidence has been used to prove mitigating circumstances that may lessen a sentence of the convicted individual, usually when the person might have potentially been sentenced to the death penalty. Generally, the neuroscientific evidence rarely exculpates the person totally from the commission of the crime.

The Controversiality of Neuroscientific Evidence

What makes neuroscientific evidence controversial is due to the nature of neuroscience itself. There is still a lot of guesswork in the way in which our brains work, and just because someone has symptoms of a neuropsychological disorder does not always automatically dictate that the symptoms relate to the commission of a crime. Someone who may have a disorder or may be prone to certain neurological symptoms may, during the commission of a crime, be perfectly lucid, logical, and reasonable. On the other hand, it may also be against the best interest of the criminal defendant if he/she has markers for a neuropsychological disorder, because the court may use that information as being predictive for the future; in other words, the court may use the probability of symptoms-based behavior as a basis for its opinion to put a defendant away without the defendant having to act with that behavior.

The Use of Neuroscientific Evidence in Competency Claims

Neuroscientific evidence, like brain scans and neuropsychological tests, may also be used to prove that a defendant is not competent to stand trial. Over the last decade, this type of evidence was brought in for roughly 395 competency claims, in hopes that the evidence would suggest that the person was unable to stand trial or that his/her confession or plea should be thrown out.

Competency is an extremely important requirement before any criminal proceeding may proceed against the defendant. According to Florida statute, mental incompetency is defined as being unable to rationally or reasonably:

  • understand the proceedings and the possible consequences of the proceedings;
  • act appropriately in the courtroom;
  • testify on his/her own behalf; and
  • consult with his/her attorney and provide assistance on his/her own behalf, among other factors.

A determination that a person is incompetent can be a temporary ruling. If the person is found incompetent at the start of trial, but later becomes, competent, the trial may be permitted to proceed.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Competency is one of the requirements that must be satisfied before you or a loved one may go to trial. Neuroscientific evidence can have a significant impact on your competency claim, as well as, your ability to show that you were unable to restrain yourself from your criminal behavior. An experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can advocate on your behalf and guide you through the criminal proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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