Monday, November 5, 2012

The use of fMRIs in the Legal System

            The article “Will Neuroscience Radically Transform the Legal System” discusses the use of neuroscience technology in order to enhance the legal system. The fMRI is one of the oldest of the “new” forms of brain scanners used. It allows one to see what parts of the brains are currently working which connects brain activity to certain mental states. Five categories (prediction, mind-reading, responsibility, treatment, and enhancement) are what researchers assume will benefit from the use of neuroscience technologies.
            After reading this article it is hard to decide whether or not I am on board with the decision of the legal system to use fMRIs when evaluating people. It all depends on what sector it is being applied to.
            In some sense I think it will be beneficial. For example: the ability to read minds. The article explains that hundreds of thousands of people make legal claims for feeling pain. I think it is important to catch those who are lying about their pain. I have heard about several cases when people have been collecting money because they were severely hurt in an accident but the next day they will be spotted working out at the gym. The fMRIs will be able to detect corruption and fraud in the system and distribute money where it is deserved.
            I think it is wrong when used to predict and for enhancement purposes. The use of fMRIs should not be present when determining someone’s medical insurance, employment, Medicaid, guardianship, etc. When it is possible to predict at what age certain people will suffer mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease companies will increase medical insurance on the people, they might be fired or suffer salary deductions, and even lose guardianship. Every person should have a fair chance and an even slate. Until the disease is present then action can be taken. There is no reason someone should be penalized based on predictions.
            Also I do not think it is moral for the legal system to use fMRIs in order to decide treatments of the accused. A judge should not be able to give a defendant medical sentences. If a person has not had a treatment previous to committing a crime, then they did not desire to be helped. They should not be given “the get out of jail free card” or the option to have surgery or life in jail. Medical procedures should be a choice by people not a punishment given to them. The legal system is crossing the boundaries into personal well-being. A judge should not have the power over a person’s brain and medical surgeries.
            Although the legal system is yet to commit to using fMRIs in order to enhance decisions, it is becoming more and more popular. It is important to decipher between personal privacy and boundaries, and when it is acceptable to act with intentions purely to help a person or the community. It is all based or morals, but it is definitely a plus to have concrete evidence.


  1. I believe using fMRI in the legal system is a controversial subject. I don’t see a problem in using fMRI’s to research legal cases that have already been settled and the logic behind those who have committed crimes. However, I do see a problem in using fMRI’s to determine a case of whether or not someone who has been convicted of a crime is guilty. I do not think a person’s trial should be based off of a brain scan to determine whether or not they are guilty. They should be judged based upon the actions they took and the crimes they committed. Regardless of what mental state they are in, people still commit crimes and need to be punished for their illegal acts.

    Furthermore, I disagree with Victoria in regards to enhancement purposes after cases have been settled. I think it would be beneficial for convicts to be given an fMRI to determine their mental imbalance and if possible, be diagnosed to a treatment that will prevent them from taking such actions again. It is true, “that if a person has not had treatment previous to committing a crime, then they did not desire to be help.” They should not be given “the get out of jail free card” either. They should be sentenced according to their crime, and then be given their diagnosed treatment while serving their time. It should not be a one or the other type of option. The person who is proven guilty must serve their punishment but also be given treatment to prevent future problems and be put back on the right mental track.

    An article in the Nature International Weekly Journal of Science called, “Science in court: Head case,” Virginia Hughes discusses whether science should be used to determine the fate of murderers. Brian Dugan, who was serving two life sentences for murder, was then accused of another murder which could lead him to the death penalty. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, performed an fMRI on Dugan to possibly avoid that fate. Kiehl normally performs these scans to find treatments for psychopaths so that they can stop committing crimes. But Dugan’s scan was trying to be used during his trial to get him out of the conviction. Kiehl’s scan could be evidence that Dugan is a psychopath and that he did not know what he was doing. Dugan was ultimately found guilty for the third murder regardless of the fMRI.

    Brain imaging has been used in other legal cases such as this one. Lawyers use this information to benefit their defendant on trial. In my opinion, I do not think it should be used to reduce a sentence or give the defendant an easy way out. Whether he or she is a psychopath or not, that person should be tried on the laws that he or she broke. Kiehl’s scan should not have been valid evidence, but should have solely been used to help Dugan deal with his emotional issues of the past and work towards a better, more just future.


  2. Victoria, I believe the article you posted about covers an area of the business world that many times goes overlooked: the law. The beauty of the age we live in is the availability of technology. In this case, we see that the health care industry is beginning to overlap with the law industry. Neuroscience advancements are beginning to bring light to a subject that has remained a mystery: the brain. The brain is solely responsible for human behavior and the more information gathered on the subject, the better.

    The introduction of fMRIs to the law process is a touchy subject. In my opinion, if done correctly, the judicial system will benefit greatly from this technological incorporation. My belief is that motive is sparked by emotion(envy, anger, greed), or mental disorder. The fMRI can be integrated in a way that establishes a foundation to see into the defendants psyche. For instance, a judge needs to know if a murderer acted out of human weakness maybe a jealous boyfriend seeking vengeance. The fMRI can let the judge know if the boyfriend is mentally stable. If the fMRI shows a psychological disorder, the judge can sentence him to a mental institution to be properly rehabilitated. If not, the judge knows the person acted willingly to commit a crime.

    For too long, lawyers have pulled at the legal system’s flaws to get their clients off the hook for “temporary insanity.” The fMRI will allow for this abused defense to be a thing of the past. The balance of justice can be restored, and in the process, money can be saved. Court fees, lawyer fees, bail bonds, and other costs that come with lengthy trials can be avoided or reduced. The cost to house prisoners is nearly $23,000 per year. There are nearly 1.6 million inmates in the United States. The jails are becoming overpopulated which causes a need for more penitentiaries
    and more money.

    I agree that judges should not be able to enforce medical procedures, but should allow the jurors to do so. Being a democracy, the United States should leave the fate of the criminals, healthy or not, to the people. Power needs to be spread amongst the judicial system to avoid corruption that has plagued it for so long. The fMRI is a good addition to the legal system. The general public needs to be safe; if a brain scan can allow a group of jurors to see a person is better off receiving medical attention and out of society so be it.

    The economic and basic general welfare benefits from an efficient judicial system is unprecedented. Criminals need to be incarcerated for their actions, but in a proper manner. Too many convicts are being dumped into prisons that need psychological attention. The judicial system has based its procedures off hypotheticals and feelings, using technicalities to sway the outcome. The fMRI can create a more efficient judicial system.

  3. I find the technology of fMRIs to be extremely innovative. I see it as bringing the concept of “reading someone’s mind” to life. But I question the accuracy of fMRIs and whether it is ethical for courts to use fMRIs as evidence.

    I think that if the fate of someone’s future lies in the hands of this technology, it should be proven to be almost 100% accurate before implementing it. In Ed Vul’s opinion, an fMRI researcher at MIT, he states that fMRIs can’t be “either reliable or practical. It is very easy to corrupt fMRI data”(Madrigal). He believes that it is easier to cheat the fMRI system over other lie detector tests. The main issue is that there is a difference between testing people in a lab setting and using it on someone in court.

    After doing some research, I have found that the majority of judges are not fans of using fMRI technology in the courtroom. One judge in Brooklyn chose to “exclude fMRI evidence in an employer-retaliation case” (Madrigal). In the judicial system, it is up to the jury to decide if a witness is telling the truth and using fMRIs “infringes on that right” (Madrigal).

    On the other hand, fMRIs have been used successfully in the courtroom by some lawyers to prove their client’s innocence. Lorne Semrau was proven innocent against the charges that stated that he “sought to defraud Medicare and Medicaid in the way he contracted and billed for his services” ( His brain scans proved that he was telling the truth about his intentions.

    I believe that no matter how accurate fMRIs become, the use of the technology in the courtroom will continue to be controversial. Since it will most likely remain controversial, I think that they should shift the focus of using fMRIs towards areas other than the law.