Criminal Minds: Use of Neuroscience as a Defense Skyrockets

Over the past few years, the use of brain scans in the courtroom has increased exponentially.

This poster provided by Celia Gordon, the defense attorney for convicted sex offender and "fake firefighter" Peter Braunstein, shows a scan of Braunstein's brain compared with that of a normal brain.
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The science also hits on philosophical issues, such as free will. Stephen Morse, associate director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania, says ethicists, juries, and scientists have to determine to what degree a brain injury can make someone commit a crime.

"If you don't act intentionally, you're not responsible," he says. "But you can't say 'He has a hole in his head that made him do it.' You have to translate that hole in his head into an excusable condition."

Morse adds that there are thousands of people with a "broken looking brain" who act rational.

Nevertheless, as the science gets better, neuroscience will continue to be used by both criminal attorneys and prosecutors. And the questions that society will have to answer will only get harder, Farahany says.

"There's the risk that by using this evidence, we'll end up in some sort of Minority Report future, where we use this evidence in the place of waiting for a criminal act," she says.

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  • Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at