We are going to try something new over here. For the past few years, I have been keeping track of the cases in which behavioral genetics or neuroscience have been discussed in legal opinions. Given the growing interest in the area, starting this month, we are going to post a daily digest, with brief case summaries, of legal opinions in which behavioral sciences evidence (in criminal and civil cases) is discussed. Please feel free to email me cases you become aware of, and we’ll be delighted to include those, as well.

With no further ado, the daily digest for today:

Brain Dysfunction and Capital Mitigation
People v. Moore, 2011 WL 285186 (Cal. 2011):
A now-too familiar mitigation strategy in a death-penalty appeal case was reported today. The Defendant was convicted of and sentenced to death for murdering an 11-year-old girl during during the commission of burglary and robbery. During the penalty phase, he introduced two experts, a neurologist and neuropsychologist to introduce evidence of defendant’s brain dysfunction in his frontal and temporal lobes, “which could cause problems in emotional function, impulse control, memory, and the ability to exercise the will to change.” The defendant claimed that although these deficits did not cause him to kill the victim, they could have influenced his judgment and behavior, and his ability to organize and to make decisions. His death sentence was affirmed on appeal.

Brain Dysfunction and Mental States
Quick v. Texas, 2011 WL 286155 (Ct. App. TX 2011):
More excluded neuroscience in guilt-phase of the trial. The Appellant claimed that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to allow three psychiatric and psychological experts to testify during the guilt-innocence stage of trial. The experts would have shown “that the executive functioning of his brain precluding him from forming the requisite intent for murder.” The expert report opined that at the time of the incident, “[appellant’s] already deficient executive brain function was totally overwhelmed, causing his [sic] to act in an extremely reckless manner. He was momentarily unable to abort his course of action and chose [sic] from the available alternative courses appropriate to the situation.” The Texas Court of Appeals held that because the expert reports “fail to show that appellant did not act intentionally or knowingly . . . or acted recklessly,” the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony.

Brain Dysfunction and Competency
U.S. v. Stanford, 2011 WL 254515 (D.Ct. Tex 2011):
It seems that in the area of competency, defendants are having more success with neurological evidence. In a pre-trial competency hearing, expert testified that the defendant is suffering from delirium, an organic brain syndrome, which prevents him from adequately assisting his attorneys to prepare his defense. Additional expert testimony corroborated the same, opining that defendant has some form of delirium caused by either the defendant’s addiction to the medications he is currently taking or perhaps soft tissue damage, a result and earlier head injury. Defendant found incompetent to stand trial because of inability to assist in his own defense.