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Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility$
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Nicole A. Vincent

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199925605

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199925605.001.0001

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Translating Scientific Evidence into the Language of the “Folk”

Translating Scientific Evidence into the Language of the “Folk”

Executive Function as Capacity-Responsibility

(p.183) 8 Translating Scientific Evidence into the Language of the “Folk”
Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility

Katrina L. Sifferd

Oxford University Press

There are legitimate worries about gaps between scientific evidence of brain function and legal criteria for determining criminal culpability. Behavioral evidence (such as arranging a getaway car) appears easier for judges and juries to use for purposes of determining criminal liability because it triggers the application of commonsense psychological (CSP) concepts that guide responsibility assessments. In contrast, scientific evidence of neurological processes will not generally lead a judge or jury to make direct inferences regarding criminal culpability. In these cases, an expert witness will be required to indicate to the fact-finder what scientific evidence means with regard to mental capacity; and then another inference must be made from this possible lack of capacity to the legal criteria for guilt. In this chapter I argue that formulating the relevant mental capacities as executive functions within the brain can provide a reliable link between neuroscience and assessments of criminal culpability.

Keywords:   executive function, criminal responsibility, commonsense psychology, diminished mental capacity, juvenile offenders, mentally retarded offenders, legal insanity

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