The DANA Foundation has a recent briefing paper about the relationship between neuroscience and our notions of criminal responsibility. Here is an excerpt:
"Just before 10:00 a.m. on June 20, 2001, a uniformed police officer was dispatched to do what he thought was a routine welfare check at a home in Houston, Texas. When the officer met Andrea Yates at the door, she immediately told him, “I just killed my kids.” When Yates was later asked why she drowned her five children, she claimed she had to in order to save them from hell. The police would learn that Yates had been suffering from long-term post-partum depression and psychosis.
Nearly 10 years after Andrea Yates killed her five children, the case remains hotly debated because of the critical legal questions it and other cases involving criminal insanity raise. At her first trial, Yates was convicted of capital murder. After her successful appeal, however, a second jury found that Yates’ post-partum psychosis rendered her incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong when she murdered her children. She was then civilly committed to a high-security treatment facility—the usual consequence of a successful insanity-based acquittal.
What role did Yates’ severe post-partum psychosis play in the crime? Was she criminally responsible for the murders of her children given her mental illness? And, more broadly, how can we as a society successfully balance protecting our citizens from crimes while still protecting those with debilitating mental disorders? These are questions that go far beyond this one crime—and that many argue will be strongly influenced by future neuroscientific studies."
See the original for the rest!