- Published: October 30, 2012
With the ongoing advent of brain imaging, one of the most interesting subfields that have developed from such technology is the brain imaging of adolescents. This allows the jurors and judges to identify the differences between how adults and adolescents make decisions when it comes down to committing criminal acts. This gives a new angle on how the court can explain, or even provide juvenile defense.
Giedd et al. performed studies on analyzing adolescent brains with MRI, and found that the frontal gray matter volume reaches its maximum at around the age of 12 for boys, and 11 for girls; however, the temporal gray matter volume reaches its maximum at about 16 for both boys and girls. Not so surprisingly, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, an area known to play an important role in controlling impulsive behaviors, does not reach its peak until early 20s, which might anatomically explain some of the children’s behaviors.
How would this play its part in the courtroom for juvenile criminal acts? Well, we already know that neuroimaging can help the jurors and juries visualize whether the witnesses are telling the truth or not (Smith et al.) up to a certain point. But how can this kind of technology help us more directly? Currently, there exists a form of defense called ‘Defense of Infancy’ which states that if the defendant has not reached the age of ‘criminal responsibility,’ which was set for age of 7, they are excluded from criminal liability. How about the adolescents, whose ages range from 14 to 18? Should we treat their actions and responsibilities just like any other criminals, with or without brain abnormalities, like psychopaths? Of course, the environmental factors will play a huge role in this, whether the adolescent grew up with caring parents or not, etc. This is definitely an area that requires more studies and has not been delved into too deeply; if anyone is interested in this field, I suggest reading this paper written by Sally Terry Green in North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology.
. Green, ST. (2010) The admissibility of Expert Witness Testimony Based on Adolescent Brain Imaging Technology in the Prosecution of Juveniles: How Fairness and Neuroscience Overcome the Evidentiary Obstacles to Allow for Application of a Midified Common law Infancy Defense. North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology, Volume 12, Issue 1
. Smith, SR. (2012) Neuroscience, Ethics, and Legal Responsibility: The Problem of the Insanity Defense. Sci Eng Ethics. 18:475-481.
. Giedd, JN. (2006) Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Adolescent Brain. Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences. Volume 1021, 77-85.