CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 21, 2018

Moriarty on Neuroscience and Insanity

Moriarty  Jane (31) v3 for webJane Campbell Moriarty (Duquesne University - School of Law) has posted Seeing Voices: Potential Neuroscience Contributions to a Reconstruction of Legal Insanity (85 Fordham L. Rev. 599 (2016)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The insanity defense is at risk of unraveling given the restrictions on its use and its lack of success when invoked. For compelling reasons, many believe that the insanity defense should continue to have a role in our legal conception of moral blameworthiness. Given the fragmented and fraying state of the defense, this article addresses some ways that developing neuroscience might be useful in reconstructing the doctrine in three possible ways. 

First, neuroscience could complement behavioral science diagnoses of mental illness by providing reproducible, biological information about individuals with neurological illness or injury. For example, if research develops brain-based biomarkers indicating active psychosis, the legal system might be more receptive to and less skeptical of legal insanity. 

Second, neuroscience has the potential to better illuminate the relationship between disordered thinking and aberrant behavior. While most jurisdictions reject the volitional prong of the insanity defense, developing neuroscience may change those views going forward. The increase in combat and sports-related brain injury has led to research examining the relationship among injury, thoughts, and behavior. This data could be helpful in reconstructing appropriate legal concepts for the insanity defense and to provide better evidence of the nexus between thought and behavior. 

Third, developing neuroscience may help improve our opinions about moral blameworthiness in legal system and inform our concepts of the respective roles of treatment and punishment.

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