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The Courts Science

Brain Scans Used In Murder Sentencing 328

Posted by kdawson
from the innocent-as-a-dead-salmon dept.
sciencehabit writes "For what may be the first time, fMRI scans of brain activity have been used as evidence in the sentencing phase of a murder trial. Defense lawyers for an Illinois man convicted of raping and killing a 10-year-old girl used the scans to argue that their client should be spared the death penalty because he has a brain disorder. Some experts say the scans are irrelevant because they were taken 20+ years after the crimes were committed. Others point out that the scans are only being considered because the sentencing phase of a trial has less stringent standards about evidence than those used to establish a defendant's innocence or guilt." In the Illinois case, the fMRI defense didn't help the defendant, whom a jury sentenced to death.
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Brain Scans Used In Murder Sentencing

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  • by evanbd (210358) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @09:17PM (#30221532)

    In the case of the death penalty, if your crimes are heinous enough (treason, murder, kidnapping and rape should all qualify IMHO) then I don't see any problems with society putting you out of our collective misery. My only issue with the death penalty is the fact that no justice system is 100% perfect, although I'm not convinced that spending your entire life behind bars for a crime that you didn't commit is anymore humane than being executed for it.

    I tend to agree with you; however, the major reason I oppose the death penalty isn't that it's inhumane; it's that we make mistakes. Given an imperfect justice system (as all are), a life sentence made in error can be partially corrected later if new evidence comes to light. It's rare, but there have been a decent number of life sentences later reversed because of new evidence (in particular DNA evidence).

    We owe it to the convicted to acknowledge that, in some cases, we make mistakes.

  • by Artifakt (700173) on Tuesday November 24, 2009 @10:10PM (#30221920)

    The deterrent effect just doesn't happen. Looking at actual death penalty convictions, there's so few cases where the prisoner has shown any ability to imagine what their life might be like a mere six months down the road, they just aren't capable of thinking, "Ten years from now, if I do X, I could end up getting a lethal injection like that guy.".
              I don't see any way we could get the total time from arrest to execution down to six months in our legal system, and do anything remotely like justice. That's bad enough. But when so many of these cases can't even project six months ahead, any reasonable system of trial and punishment has zero deterrence.
            We have a case just finishing up in my area. Multiple defendants tried separately, for two murders with lots of additional nastiness like rape and torture. Going by what the two defendants convicted so far have said in the televised trial footage. if a program had come on the TV showing someone convicted of the exact crime they were planning, and how it took less than a week to get from the trial, to the graphically televised three day execution by slow torture, they would have still done it. You could have a 99.9% conviction rate and rotting heads on spikes on every street corner these idiots walked past, and they still wouldn't believe it was going to eventually happen to them.
            I'm not arguing for or against capital punishment, mind you, not taking a stand either way. I'm just saying a hope of deterrence shouldn't be why anyone decides to favor capital punishment, because the people who get it are just plain too stupid to deter.

  • Re:Personally... (Score:3, Informative)

    by big_paul76 (1123489) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:48AM (#30224122)

    The best argument on this, especially when talking to the religious right, is biblical.

    Matthew 25:34-40.

    And Jesus said, For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

    "And Jesus said to the righteous, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

    Seriously, even for an atheist like me, that's a powerful argument.

  • by martinX (672498) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @07:42AM (#30224660)
    I just read about the Jeanine Nicario [wikipedia.org] case. Two men were convicted and sentenced to death for her murder. The murder that Dugan has now confessed to. Although Dugan is obviously the worst scum, the fact that 14 cops, prosecutors and deputies were indicted (They were found not guilty of anything naughty.) and nearly got two innocent men killed by the "Justice System" kind of puts me off the death penalty in general.
  • Re:Great defence! (Score:3, Informative)

    by qazsedcft (911254) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:19AM (#30225068)
    What you wrote seems to fit the description of a psychopath [wikipedia.org] pretty well. Actually, the Wikipedia article suggests that there may be genetic factors involved.
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @12:19PM (#30226970) Homepage Journal

    From the wikipedia article linked above:

    Psychopaths are glib and superficially charming, and many psychopaths are excellent mimics of normal human emotion;[10] some psychopaths can blend in, undetected, in a variety of surroundings, including corporate environments.[11] There is neither a cure nor any effective treatment for psychopathy; there are no medications or other techniques which can instill empathy, and psychopaths who undergo traditional talk therapy only become more adept at manipulating others.[12] The consensus among researchers is that psychopathy stems from a specific neurological disorder which is biological in origin and present from birth.[10] It is estimated that one percent of the general population are psychopaths.[13][14]

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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