Neuroscience offers modern perspectives regarding violent criminal behavior that can effectively inform your legal practice. As a neuroscientist (PhD) and criminal behavioral profiler (D-ABP), I can identify forensically relevant behaviors within the context of the commission of a criminal act. What is the role of forensic neuroscience (neurolaw)?
Research suggests that making inferential assessments about a defendant’s mental state can be a challenging task for legal counsel and jurors [1,2]. Criminal defense attorneys often use forensic psychiatrists or psychologists to help determine the mental state of their defendant. Such clinicians are principally concerned about their patient’s (defendant’s) mental well-being, rendering their expert diagnostic opinion. My analytical approach may better serve your practice, presenting cogent findings to leverage your most pivotal cases.
Neuroscientific evidence can be used to critically arbitrate criminal and/or civil cases. Expert witness testimony may be especially useful during pretrial motions, discovery and sentencing to assess the feasibility of rehabilitative contingencies, etc. [3,4]. Given my background, I can effectively liaise with neurologists, psychiatrists and/or psychologists. Also, I have certification in advanced investigative interviewing and interrogation: the Reid Technique.
My meta-analysis, ‘Forensic neurobiology underlying violent criminal behavior,’ is now published open access. My research entails rigorous review, integrating hundreds of quality scientific articles within this discipline.
- Psychopathy and criminality → reactive vs instrumental aggression
- Neurolaw → neuroanatomy underlying criminality, evidentiary neuroimaging
- Criminal aggression
- Other neuropsychological disorders and acquired pseudopsychopathy → traumatic brain injury, intellectual disability, mental illness
- Intentionality and mens rea
Further information is provided below. Please feel free to contact me – I am happy to discuss the role of neurolaw and the implications for your practice.
Related to neurolaw, check out my blogs on this site too, which includes sleep forensics, neurochemistry, detecting deception and more.
Neuroscience and the law
Consideration for a defendant’s mental state is requisite to fair judicial proceedings. Criminal conviction is contingent upon evidence that the commission of a prohibited act, actus reus, coincides with a statutorily defined mental state, mens rea. Knowledgeable agency may not be equivalent to ipso facto intention, and a legal gray zone emerges when neuropsychiatric, intellectual or cognitive deficits are less than overt. And resultant sentencing outcomes can be critically life-impactful.
Since violent criminal behavior may be regarded as a sequela of compromised functional neuroanatomy , a determinant in mens rea, the concept of the insanity defense has logically been extended to include other neuropathic disorders. Because brain scans have diagnostic credibility, by extension, they are increasingly becoming persuasive forensic evidence. In conjunction with a behavioral profile, such evidence can contextualize a psychiatric diagnostic opinion to mitigate legal outcomes or facilitate an insanity defense . The intercalated framework of neurolaw i.e., neuroscience applied to law, uniquely offers great power to characterize criminological factors within the statute
To define the scope of neurolaw, as per the federal rule of evidence, expert testimony needs only to be helpful, relevant and reliable to the trier and impactful to jurors. As per the Daubert ruling (1993), the United States Supreme Court stipulates that the trial judge’s own discretion determines whether to admit expert evidence into their court. If any given witnesses’ testimony is grounded in scientific methodology, then their knowledgeable expertise is deemed admissible, in accordance with Daubert’s Rule 702 .
Psychopathy and criminality
An estimated 1% of the general populace meets the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. However, psychopaths are responsible for an inordinate proportion of violent crime [3,6]. Psychopathy is not a mental illness, but rather a personality disorder and their behaviors differ markedly from non-psychopathic offenders. Psychopathy is a strong predicator of violent recidivism coupled with resistance to rehabilitative treatment. Lawyers and/or investigators: if you suspect this may be a factor in your case, I can effectively advise.
1. Dixon, L., Gill, B., 2001. Changes in the standards for admitting expert evidence in federal civil cases since the Daubert decision. RAND Institute for Civil Justice.
2. Farahany, N.A., 2016. Neuroscience and behavioral genetics in US criminal law: an empirical analysis. J Law Biosci. 2(3), 485-509.
3. Du Beau, A., summer 2018. Forensic neurobiology underlying violent criminal behavior. ISBN 978-1-5342-0416-4, Glasstree Academic Publishing, 1-36.
4. Eagleman D., 2011. Incognito: The secret lives of the brain. Knopf Doubleday Publishing.
5. Presidential commission for the study of bioethical issues, March 2015. Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society.
6. Anderson, N.E., Kiehl, K.A., 2014. Psychopathy: Developmental perspectives and their implications for treatment. Res Neurol Neurosci. 32(1), 103-117.