- Published: November 14, 2012
In 2010, Grady Nelson was convicted of murdering his wife as well as raping and stabbing to death his 11 year old, mentally handicapped step daughter. But instead of the death penalty, Nelson was only sentenced to life in prison. The crucial evidence that had swayed jurors was his brain scans using electroencephalography (QEEG) and expert testimony by neuroscientist Robert Thatcher. While Thatcher testified that the large spikes in Grady Nelson’s EEG indicate damage to the frontal cortex which lead to poor self-control, another neuroscientist, Dr. Epstein is convinced that the EEG pattern is most likely nothing more than contraction of head muscles. Regardless of which expert is actually correct, the idea that Grady Nelson’s actions were caused by brain damage beyond his control is enough to “turn [juror’s] decision all the way around”. In the end, because QEEG data was admitted, Nelson was saved from the death penalty.
Grady Nelson’s case was not a unique demonstration of biological evidence’s effect on judges and jurors. A study done by researchers at the University of Utah showed that judges handed out a lighter sentence, 13 years, for an assault case done by a psychopath when biological evidence of his psychopathy was shown compared to a 14 years sentencing when no biological evidence was shown.
Psychopaths lack remorse as well as sympathy, and on average, have a higher rate of recidivism. From a society utility maximizing standpoint, they should have a longer sentence or at least be kept away from everyone else to prevent future criminal offence cases. However, biological evidence has proven capable of making judges and jurors more sympathetic towards the offender and thus reducing their sentences. The bias introduced to sentencing decisions through scientific evidence reduces the fairness and efficiency of the justice system. Whether judges and jurors become harsher or more lenient because of these data, there will be a factor of bias not present in other cases where perhaps technology is not sophisticated enough to detect neurological and genetic abnormality.
. 17 2012: n. page. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6096/788.full>.
Miller, Greg. "Brain Exam May Have Swayed Jury in Sentencing Convicted Murderer." Science . 14 2010: n. page. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. .