Criminal defense lawyers are increasingly using brain scans and other neurological evidence to defend their clients, according to a new study.
Neuroscience advances in recent years haven’t gotten to Minority Report-levels yet, but some scientists believe they can explain—if not predict—criminal activity based on brain scans. The advances have led more lawyers, especially upon appeal, to try to explain their clients’ mental makeup as the reason for their criminal behavior.
According to Duke University researcher Nita Farahany, the number of cases in which judges have mentioned neuroscience evidence in their opinion increased from 112 in 2007 to more than 1,500 in 2011. The actual number of cases in which neuroscience evidence is presented is likely much higher because trial data is notoriously incomplete: Many criminal cases are settled outside of court, and the database that Farahany worked from, Westlaw, doesn’t contain every criminal case.
“Using this tiny little sliver [of data], the number of cases in which the judges discuss neuroscience is increasing,” she told scientists at the Annual Meeting of the International Neuroethics Society last month. “I can’t tell you if that’s because neuroscience is increasing in the courtroom, but I can tell you that judges are talking about it in more opinions and they’re talking about it in much more detail and depth.”
Syria’s rebel fighters — who have long staked claim to the moral high ground for battling dictatorship — are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.
The shift in mood presents more than just a public relations problem for the loosely knit militants of the Free Syrian Army, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior firepower. A dampening of that support undermines the rebels’ ability to fight and win what has become a devastating war of attrition, perpetuating the violence that has left nearly 40,000 dead, hundreds of thousands in refugee camps and more than a million forced from their homes.
The rebel shortcomings have been compounded by changes in the opposition, from a force of civilians and defected soldiers who took up arms after the government used lethal force on peaceful protesters to one that is increasingly seeded with extremist jihadis. That radicalization has divided the fighters’ supporters and made Western nations more reluctant to give rebels the arms that might help break the intensifying deadlock. Instead, foreign leaders are struggling to find indirect ways to help oust Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
And now arrogance and missteps are draining enthusiasm from some of the fighters’ core supporters.
“They were supposed to be the people on whom we depend to build a civil society,” lamented a civilian activist in Saraqib, a northern town where rebels were videotaped executing a group of unarmed Syrian soldiers, an act the United Nations has declared a likely war crime.
Columbo would have hated the latest trend in crime-fighting. And it definitely would have made Dirty Harry even more unhinged.
But Sherlock Holmes, now he would have been impressed. The logic, the science, the compilation of data-all the stuff of Holmesian detective work.
I’m talking about something known as predictive policing-gathering loads of data and applying algorithms to deduce where and when crimes are most likely to occur. Late last month, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it will be expanding its use of software created by a California startup named PredPol.
For the past six months, police in that city’s Foothill precinct have been following the advice of a computer and the result, according the the LAPD, is a 25 percent drop in reported burglaries in the neighborhoods to which they were directed. Now the LAPD has started using algorithm-driven policing in five more precincts covering more than 1 million people.
PredPol’s software, which previously had been tested in Santa Cruz-burglaries there dropped by 19 percent-actually evolved from a program used to predict earthquakes. Now it crunches years of crime data, particularly location and time, and refines it with what’s known about criminal behavior, such as the tendency of burglars to work the neighborhoods they know best.
Before each shift, officers are given maps marked with red boxes of likely hot spots for property crimes, in some cases zeroing in on areas as small as 500 feet wide. They’re told that whenever they’re not on calls, they should spend time in one of the boxes, preferably at least 15 minutes of every two hours. The focus is less on solving crimes, and more on preventing them by establishing a high profile in crime zones the computer has targeted.
The Associated Press published a story today detailing how, in 2007, undercover New York Police Department officers investigated the Muslim community in Newark, N.J., producing a secret report profiling mosques, Islamic schools and Muslim-owned businesses and restaurants.
The story, based on a copy of the 60-page report obtained by AP, concludes that the surveillance project was undertaken despite “no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior. It was a guide to Newark’s Muslims.”
Besides being significant on its own, that conclusion contradicts claims by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year about how the NYPD operates.
In August, after AP published the first story in its series documenting the NYPD’s extensive surveillance and investigation of Muslims, Bloomberg denied that the NYPD launched investigations based on religion in the absence of suspicion of a crime.
“If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD’s job is to do it. The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement, and I think they follow the law,” Bloomberg said at an Aug. 25 news conference, the local news site DNAInfo noted at the time. “We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there.”