The Use of Neuroscience for Mitigation During Sentencing in Non-Capital Cases
Neuroscience is increasingly used during sentencing in criminal courtrooms to mitigate punishment. However, neuroscience is not presented in a vacuum—it is generally used to describe a defendant’s neuropsychological state in the context of other mitigating circumstances. It is important to explore how decision-makers reason about neuroscience information in the courtrooms given the consequences of sentencing decisions. The present studies examine how neuroscience information presented across different mitigating contexts impacts legally relevant perceptions, including judgments of control over behavior and punishment decisions. Study 1 uses qualitative methods to explore how judges and lawyers use and reason about neuroscience information in the courts. Study 2 investigates whether neuroscience information, when paired with potentially mitigating circumstances about a defendant, differentially impacts legally relevant judgments. Study 3 assesses how the mitigating context in which neuroscience information is introduced differentially impacts causal attributions about a defendant’s behaviors. These studies offer novel insights about the use of neuroscience in the courtroom and demonstrate that the context in which this information is presented matters for the formation of legally relevant judgments.
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