- Published: November 19, 2012
It is quite obvious that a person with an arm injury cannot use his arm properly. He wouldn’t be able to do most of the things that most people do with their arms. Same kind of assumption can be made with foot injury or digestive problem. But what about brain? When we see someone with a brain tumor, can we make the same assumption about that person? What kind of assumptions can we make? Can we simply point to the tumor and say that it is the reason why the person’s behaviors changed?
In a recent article in ABA Journal, the case of a young man named Chirstopher Tiegreen is briefly described. He was just a friendly, gentle teenager until he had a tragic accident, which put him in a coma for a month. When he emerged from the coma, he was a completely different person. Parts of his brain were damaged due to the accident. He was violent toward his family and other staff members, which made him get kicked out of various residential facilities. He escaped from 24-hour supervision, and he committed several crimes including sexual battery and cruelty to a child. Now, is it safe to pinpoint to the damages of the brain and say that “that is the reason why he committed this crime”? Could he have tried to take control of his behavior more, or was the brain damage horrible enough to keep him from watching his own behavior? The current level of neuroscience does not provide a clear answer to that.
It’s a little bit more disturbing to realize that so many veterans end up in courts with various charges. A lot of them suffer from a brain injury or PTSD and have difficulty with controlling their impulse. Those people went out to the war field and fought for the country, coming back only to fall to the cracks of legal system because of their experience in war. Is it fair to make them stand in court just like every other criminal? Or, as Morse puts it, is it the “people” not the “brains” that commit the crime?
Although we don’t have a clear answer to every question, we can try to do our best with what we have. We can try to optimize treatment for those people, and we can proceed with more experience and more knowledge about how to treat thses kinds of cases. After all, we can only move forward with what we have and what we gain along the way with our legal system.
Davis, K. "Brain Trials: Neuroscience is taking a stand in the courtroom." ABA Journal, Nov. 2012.