I was revisiting a Nature article published about using fMRI as evidence in a murder case featuring someone’s work that I don’t talk enough about, Dr. Kent Kiehl. I find his research focusing on criminal psychopathy using fMRI extremely interesting.
The purpose of the work, Kiehl says, is to eliminate the stigma against psychopaths and find them treatments so they can stop committing crimes. But [the] lawyers saw another purpose. During sentencing for capital crimes, the defence may present just about anything as a mitigating factor, from accounts of the defendant being abused as a child to evidence of extreme emotional disturbance. Kiehl’s research could offer a persuasive argument that Dugan is a psychopath and could not control his killer impulses.
Eight years I’ve spent in my business working with psychologists and psychopharmacologists prepping them as expert witnesses, so I was glad to see an article that not only discusses some of the debate on if the science of fMRI is ready for the courts, but also offers a little peep on how the attorneys intend to use this new tool.
Like I’ve said before, the bottom line (after sorting the science/admissibility) is educating the jury on brain scans, which is no easy task since to understand what the image is mapping, one needs an understanding of physics, math, neurobiology and very complex data analysis techniques. To that end, and in the time being, lawyers will be looking for more neuroscience experts to battle this out infront of the jury, much to some researchers’ dismay.
Would we rather spend time explaining the science and admit we aren’t exactly confident in it and why (which I do not consider a “soap box” position) or repeat that it’s not ready, click our heels 3 times and hope attorneys don’t take advantage? Those that don’t support the former, by default, may be allowing the latter. Besides, even if science get to say how far fMRI should reach, lawyers will be the ones saying how fast it will get there. It would still seem the immediate need is two fold: more replication studies, more subjects and investigating further the potential of fMRI in clinical applications.
Nature’s full article here.