Archive for the ‘NeuroLaw’ Category
We’ve written before about the inaccuracy of eye witness testimony despite the familiarity of the saying, “I know what I saw!”. But here is newly published research purporting to have been “able to discriminate perfectly between 12 knowledgeable subjects who viewed stimuli related to their activities and 12 non-knowledgeable subjects who viewed only irrelevant items”. What does that mean? Well, let us tell you (and you can also see a more complete description of the experiments here).
These researchers wanted to test eye-witness memory through the measuring of brain waves (called the P300 event-related-potential-component, as I am sure you knew already). The P300 wave is thought to represent the transfer of information to consciousness, a process that involves many different regions of the brain. Some say the P300 wave occurs when the observer sees something that stands out for them, “an oddball” stimuli. In order for a P300 wave to occur, the subject must be consciously paying attention to targets presented. These researchers thought they could present familiar (e.g., “Hey! I’ve seen this before!”) stimuli to research participants and those who had seen something similar the day before would have a corresponding P300 spike in their EEGs.
To test, they had 26 students (6 males and 20 females) wear a camera attached to their clothing for four hours. (Two participants were removed from the analysis due to concerns about the quality of their data.) The camera footage obtained was then used to construct a concealed-information-test (CIT) also sometimes referred to as the “guilty knowledge test”. What this means is that various keywords relating to events taken from their actual camera footage filmed the day before were assembled along with other unrelated words. The researchers thought that if the participants saw situation relevant words describing events/places they had actually traveled past the day before, they would recognize it and their EEGs would show a P300 spike. This spike, if it happened, would tell the researchers that the witness had indeed seen the item described.
Half the participants were put into a condition called the “knowledgeable” group. Their footage would be described in the key words they were shown the next day. The other half were put into a condition called the “non-knowledgeable” group. Their footage would be entirely composed of irrelevant words that had nothing to do with what they had seen or passed by the day before. The researchers believed that the “knowledgeable” group would show the P300 spikes on their EEGs while the “non-knowledgeable” group would see nothing familiar and thus have no P300 spiking.
And they were right. The use of the P300 brain wave was highly effective in this particular scenario and the researchers believe this work moves the CIT closer to use in the courtroom. Specifically, they think details of the crime scene or a cell phone dropped at the scene could result in the P300 spike in perpetrators being interrogated. It would not really matter what the perpetrator said out loud. We can simply look at their P300 brain waves to see what really happened. The researchers report they were able to differentiate between knowledgeable and non-knowledgeable subjects with 100% accuracy.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think, as does Loonylabs.org, that this idea is just plain creepy.
Perhaps, like the two subjects in this article whose data was thrown out, the words or objects used could have idiosyncratic meaning and the P300 spike could occur and mean something very different from that the person being interrogated had been at the scene.
Perhaps, anxiety can trigger a P300 spike.
Who knows what P300 spikes are related to in total? Or even if they are related to different things for different people?
The way in which the words were introduced seems likely to affect response. If presented on a computer screen, what size is the font? What is the subject’s reading ability? Is there music accompanying the words? If the words are spoken aloud, the person speaking the words would need to be carefully trained, and the reliability of the results could be questioned on this basis, among others.
This would surely be subject to the same limitations that lie detector tests are, and the results are far from acceptable levels of reliability.
There is so much to question when scientists suggest a brain wave can tell us information that can result in the removal of liberty and freedom. We’d say this interrogation strategy has a long long ways to go before it’s ready for prime time.
Meixner JB, & Rosenfeld JP (2014). Detecting Knowledge of Incidentally Acquired, Real-World Memories Using a P300-Based Concealed-Information Test. Psychological Science. PMID: 25231899
It’s been a while since we’ve done an update on neurolaw issues and we think you’ll want to read the entire article upon which this post is based. The article is published in Court Review: Journal of the American Judges Association (which is probably a journal you would benefit from perusing regularly). The article (authored by a psychiatry professor with both MD and JD degrees) offers a review of past courtroom use of the Positive Emission Tomography (commonly referred to as a PET scan) and their potential admissibility for criminal trials. This is obviously a very contentious topic but one that is essential for trial advocates to monitor. Here are just a few of the thoughts on (past and future) admissibility of the PET Scan that Dr. Rushing offers to the judges for whom the journal is written.
Pretrial Competency Hearings:
If during pretrial examination, a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, the examiner offers a diagnosis and a prognosis for when (and how) competency can be restored. If the examiner believes competency cannot be restored, “a PET scan can help illustrate the brain-based abnormality that the examiner detected”.
Guilt Phase of Criminal Trials:
During this phase of a criminal trial the PET can “elucidate damage to areas of the brain that are involved in cognitive functions such as judgment and impulse control”. The author comments that prosecutors may challenge the defense expert’s ability to establish a causal link between the violence and the brain damage (and those challenges have often been successful in excluding PET evidence). However, she says, “PETs colorful imagery of brain damage can be useful during trial or in plea bargaining discussions”.
Penalty Phase of Criminal Trials:
The author comments brain-based deficits are a mitigating factor in cases of both capital and non-capital defendants. She cites 2004 case law mandating the consideration of cognitive and/or neuropsychological limitations even when those limitations have no direct link with homicidal behavior. Thus, she recommends the use of PET scans as mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial. This evidence could help a jury understand the limitations of the defendant and thus, they may impose a lesser sentence.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims for Failure to Explore Brain-Based Abnormalities:
Failure to present evidence on brain damage has been a “factor in overturning death sentences in ineffective-assistance-of-counsel cases”.
Finally, the author opines that the rules of evidence offer clear guidelines regarding “when and for what purposes” evidence such as PET scans can be introduced. She identifies a list of questions for judges to considering at various stages of trial.
Whether you think, as we do, that the colorful PET scans are not yet ready for prime time use in courtrooms around the country or not–when an article is published in a journal directed at judges–it’s probably a good idea to have a look!
Rushing, SE (2014). The admissibility of brain scans in criminal trials: The case of positron emission tomography. Court Review, 50 (2)
Demographic Roulette: What was once a bad idea has gotten worse. Authored by Doug Keene and Rita Handrich with a response from Paul Begala, this article takes a look at how the country has changed over the past 2 decades and our old definitions of Democrat or Republican and conservative or liberal are simply no longer useful. What does that mean for voir dire? What should it mean for voir dire? Two very good questions those.
If it feels bad to me, it’s wrong for you: The role of emotions in evaluating harmful acts. Authored by Ivar Hannikainen, Ryan Miller and Fiery Cushman with responses from Ken Broda-Bahm and Alison Bennett, this article has a lesson for us all. It isn’t what that terrible, awful defendant did that makes me want to punish, it’s how I think I would feel if I did that sort of terrible, horrible awful thing. That’s what makes me want to punish you. It’s an interesting perspective when we consider what makes jurors determine lesser or greater punishment.
Neuroimagery and the Jury. Authored by Jillian M. Ware, Jessica L. Jones, and Nick Schweitzer with responses from Ekaterina Pivovarova and Stanley L. Brodsky, Adam Shniderman, and Ron Bullis. Remember how fearful everyone was about the CSI Effect when the research on the ‘pretty pictures’ of neuroimagery came out? In the past few years, several pieces of research have sought to replicate and extend the early findings. These studies, however, failed to find support for the idea that neuroimages unduly influence jurors. This overview catches us up on the literature with provocative ideas as to where neurolaw is now.
Predicting Jurors’ Verdict Preference from Behavioral Mimicry. Authored by Matthew Groebe, Garold Stasser, and Kevin-Khristián Cosgriff-Hernandez, this paper gives insight into how jurors may be leaning in support of one side or the other at various points during the trial. This is a project completed using data from actual mock trials (and not the ubiquitous undergraduate).
Our Favorite Thing. We often have a Favorite Thing in The Jury Expert. A Favorite Thing is something low-cost or free that is just fabulous. This issue, Brian Patterson shares the idea of mind mapping and several ways (both low-tech and high-tech) to make it happen.
The Ubiquitous Practice of “Prehabilitation” Leads Prospective Jurors to Conceal Their Biases. Authored by Mykol C. Hamilton, Emily Lindon, Madeline Pitt, and Emily K. Robbins, with responses from Charli Morris and Diane Wiley, this article looks at how to not “prehabilitate” your jurors and offers ideas about alternate ways of asking the question rather than the tired, old “can you be fair and unbiased?”.
Novel Defenses in the Courtroom. Authored by Shelby Forsythe and Monica K. Miller, with a response from Richard Gabriel. This article examines the reactions of research participants to a number of novel defenses (Amnesia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Battered Women Syndrome (BWS), Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), Post-Partum Depression (PPD), and Gay Panic Defense) and makes recommendations on how (as well as whether or not) to use these defenses.
On The Application of Game Theory in Jury Selection. Authored by David M. Caditz with responses from Roy Futterman and Edward Schwartz. Suppose there was a more predictable, accurate and efficient way of exercising your peremptory strikes? Like using a computer model based on game theory? In this article, a physicist presents his thoughts on making those final decisions more logical and rational and based on the moves opposing counsel is likely to make.
The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita
We regularly follow the neurolaw literature and about a year ago, we blogged about how judges are softer on crime when educated about the brains of psychopaths. Well. Judges are people too and a recently published study shows it isn’t just judges who are affected by neuroscience education. While the idea that flashy pictures alone can unduly influence jurors during a “his or her brain made him do it” defense presentation has been debunked, apparently a lecture on neuroscience can still influence individual ideas about punishment and the Defendant’s responsibility for their actions.
The researchers were interested in seeing if they could manipulate beliefs about free will among their participants. They began with the assumption that most of us believe in free will as opposed to determinism or fate. Then in four separate experiments with undergraduate college students, the researchers measured attitudes toward punishment for criminal behavior and then began to erode the participants beliefs in free will by educating them on neuroscience.
What they found was that as knowledge about neuroscience increased, the belief in free will decreased as did the length of sentences recommended for criminal behavior.
In other words, as participants learned more about the biological (or as the researchers labeled it, mechanistic) bases for behavior, they held the alleged criminal less responsible and believed the punishment should be less severe. The participants educated about neuroscience had less of a desire for retribution than did those who were not educated in neuroscience. From a litigation advocacy perspective, these studies have important ramifications.
If the findings are accurate, a convicted Defendant whose defense included a neuroscience education might receive in a lesser sentence.
The Prosecutor will want to focus on personal responsibility and the controversial nature of neuroscience research in order to maximize punishment decisions.
Shariff AF, Greene JD, Karremans JC, Luguri JB, Clark CJ, Schooler JW, Baumeister RF, & Vohs KD (2014). Free Will and Punishment: A Mechanistic View of Human Nature Reduces Retribution. Psychological science PMID: 24916083
Just say his brain made him do it! That is the conclusion of new research on the relationship between gruesomeness of the crime and the harshness of the sentence. In case you can’t intuit this one, the more gruesome (and disturbing) the crime, the harsher the sentence tends to be. But if the assault was merely moderately gruesome — even though it could have been deadly– there are ways to minimize punishment decisions.
Researchers at Duke University found that “if the focus is drawn away from the mind of a perpetrator by providing biological explanations of personality instead of traits, people may not make the same social cognitive inferences”. So how did they come to that conclusion (and what does that quotation mean)?
First of all, it’s a small sample (N = 11), likely because it’s expensive and time consuming to use an MRI machine. The researchers conducted brain MRIs while the participants read a number of different vignettes about crimes either strong in violence-related disgust or weak in disgust. The idea was for the researchers to see which areas of the brain were activated while reading the vignettes (that were either disgustingly gruesome or not so much) and then to see whether the participants chose punishment less than the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines or chose the harsher recommended sentence. (We’ve written about disgust before and these researchers equate “gruesome” with “disgusting”–apparently thinking of the visceral reaction to gruesome photos or mental images elicited from written descriptions.)
Here are examples of the vignettes used:
Rob Whitley was on his lunch break. He saw his boss at the hot dog stand and approached him while taking out a pair of scissors. He stabbed his boss on the side of the neck first, and then the lower back, causing the victim serious blood loss and requiring hospitalization. (This vignette was described as high in disgust.)
John Noel was at a bar and saw his ex-girlfriend’s new lover, James. Although John was not expecting to see James there, John took out the gun he regularly carried in his back pocket and tried to shoot James, but missed. (This vignette was described as low in disgust.)
Both of these crimes (whether high or low in disgust) would be prosecutable for aggravated assault. Participants were asked to rate how morally reprehensible the act was, how severe the punishment should be, and how much they were disgusted by what they read. However, as is typical in research like this, there was another twist: The researchers added a single sentence to the end of each vignette describing the perpetrator’s personality using either personality traits or biological language. That is, “Gerald frequently proves to have an impulsive personality” versus “Terry has a gene mutation that has been associated with impulsivity” when the crime was premeditated murder.
And here is what they found:
When the perpetrator was described as having biological reasons for impulsivity (rather than as being impulsive), he was seen as being less responsible and punished less severely.
When crimes were strong in disgust, there were harsher sentences but there was no relationship between how personality was described (biological or trait description) and punishment.
Crimes weak in disgust resulted in less harsh punishment than the guidelines recommended while crimes strong in disgust were punished at the recommended level.
In other words, if the crime is pretty gruesome (and these researchers say therefore one jurors would see as disgusting) your client is likely to get the harsher sentence regardless of whether you invoke a neurolaw (his brain made him do it) sort of defense. But, if the crime isn’t gruesome and you invoke a neurolaw defense, your client may be seen as less responsible for his actions and punished less.
Ultimately, this dovetails well with what we’ve known for many years– its about what the jury focuses on. If the jury spends a lot of time talking about the crime and the injuries it caused, the defendant is in trouble. If there is a credible mediating explanation such as a neurolaw defense or other circumstantial evidence and the jury spends time talking about human behavior instead of terrifying assault, the defendant is in better shape.
Overall, it is important to remember that this is a study based on such a small sample of people (N = 11) that their results might not be verifiable, even when it makes intuitive sense. However, it is worth remembering that according to this study, gruesomeness/disgust of the crime affects the assignment of responsibility but likely does not affect sentencing decisions.
Capestany BH, & Harris LT (2014). Disgust and biological descriptions bias logical reasoning during legal decision-making. Social Neuroscience, 9 (3), 265-277 PMID: 24571553