5758 From Research to Evidence: Behavioral Sciences in the Courtroom

Sunday, February 19, 2012: 9:30 AM
Room 220 (VCC West Building)
Nita Farahany , Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
Recent scientific progress has dramatically advanced our understanding of the biological, neurological and environmental contributions to normal and deviant human behavior.  Behavioral scientists have moved beyond purely descriptive scientific accounts to predictive ones by linking genetic and neurological variations to behavioral variations in the population. Growing societal and academic interest in the intersection between behavioral genetics, neuroscience and criminal law is evident by the frequency with which major mainstream and academic publications feature articles on this topic. Yet, popular and academic studies on the intersection of biosciences and the law have been based on ad hoc reporting and analysis, rather than a systemic analysis of its use. This presentation summarizes the first wide-scale and comprehensive empirical study on the use of these biosciences in the U.S. criminal justice system. Based on over 700 relevant legal opinions published by Westlaw between 2005-2009, this study captures and categorizes every mention of behavioral genetics or neuroscience introduced on behalf of a criminal defendant during that time. The study results confirm some ad hoc hypotheses in the field to date, such as the frequency with which certain claims are raised, such as mitigation. But the study also reveals as-of-yet discussed applications of biosciences in criminal law. These novel claims may have greater success and normative justification than the previously assumed and discussed uses of biosciences in U.S. criminal law.