Neuropsychology in the Courtroom
Full course description
Defendants in criminal cases increasingly state that they do not have any memory for their offence. This raises the question of whether this is always a valid defence. Besides this, defendants and witnesses with traumatic brain injury, intellectual disabilities, and/or functional or neurodegenerative disorders are becoming more common in legal settings. It is often assumed that these persons can, as a witness or as a defendant, give accurate statements.
Criminal courts are becoming increasingly aware of the unique and important contribution neuropsychological assessment may have to mental health evaluations in forensic practice. This pertains especially to cases with specific central nervous system pathology (e.g., congenital, developmental, injury). As a result, neuropsychologists are being asked to prepare reports in both civil and criminal cases: physical/psychological injury cases, and competency assessment (competency to stand trial and criminal responsibility). The neuropsychological evaluation is typically based on multiple sources of information (case files, medical files, neuropsychological assessment, etc). The most difficult part of the assessment is often the interpretation of the neuropsychological evaluation within the legally relevant criteria. Because every expert in the courtroom will sometimes be confronted with neuropsychological issues, it is important to have basic knowledge on brain structure and function, brain-behavior relationships, neuropsychological assessment and legal issues related to neuropsychology. Moreover, the use of high-tech brain imaging techniques in defendants, to explain or underscore specific theories on brain-behaviour relationships, is becoming increasingly common nowadays. But what is the value of such brain images in individual defendants? Given the increased demand for experts in the courtroom, it is desirable to have expertise in this particular field.
At the end of this course students:
- are able to understand neuropsychological assessment (including intelligence testing) and apply and interpret basic neuropsychological tests;
- are able to specify and explain the role of specific brain structures in aggression and memory and amnesia;
- are able to explain and criticize the use of brain scans in the courtroom;
- have an idea how to make appropriate judgments about specific brain-behaviour relationships and about other experts’ decisions in the courtroom.
- S.T.L. Houben