- Published: June 8, 2015
I recently found an article (The limited role of neuroimaging in determining criminal liability: An overview and case report) on the Forensic Science International Journal website, which I felt provided a nice overview of the literature on the role of structural and functional MRI brain imaging in courts. Moreover, I thought the article came to an appropriate conclusion – one which mirrors my own beliefs – defining this role.
"The role of imaging studies should be restricted to providing the courts with information that affords a more accurate assessment of culpability and, if applicable, the manner of punishment that would be most beneficial to society and the individual."
The article makes a strong argument for this conclusion by not just citing the infancy of such technology, but instead by arguing that these brain imaging results can’t be used to explain a defendant’s state of mind during the crime. At one point, the authors pose the question: “Can [brain imaging findings] truly enlighten a court on [a defendant’s] criminal intent, or mens rea, at the time, and if so, which parts of the crime?” In my opinion, these tests do not have such capabilities. The fact is that our brains are truly one of the most complex and dynamic tissues in our body, so how can we even begin to examine it for such a purpose?
At the same time though, I do understand that there are predisposing factors that make certain individuals biologically vulnerable to more criminal behavior. For this reason, I find myself strongly agreeing with the latter part of the authors’ conclusion. These imaging techniques allow us to examine the brains of defendants for any abnormalities that could affect their behavior. From these results, the justice system can tailor the punishments in order to reduce the rate of recidivism. There is a promising future for these technologies, but we must be cautious with how we use them.