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July 30, 2011

Do Criminals Commit Crimes- A Question for Neuroscience

For years criminal defense attorneys have been arguing over the objections of prosecutors that their clients are not guilty by reason of insanity, but scientific evidence now indicates that criminals might not be to blame for any of the crimes that they commit. While conclusive proof on this point would be welcomed by the prison population in the United States, this evidence, discussed by Michael Gazzaniga in his paper available at (, creates a whole host of potential problems for the criminal justice system in the United States. Specifically, if a criminal has no control over his own actions, should he be punished? If so, should the form of that punishment change? According to Gazzaniga, the current system of punishment is based on retribution. Would a system of rehabilitation be more appropriate? And does it even matter?

The whole criminal justice system, which has developed over hundreds of years and is modeled after the English common law system, is based on the concept that each individual is a rational actor that is responsible for his actions. However, evidence cited by Gazzaniga suggests that decisions are made before the actor becomes conscious of the decision. Gazzaniga suggests that this supports determinism, the view that our decisions are products of our circumstances rather than a product of our own free will. For me this evidence raises the question of whether there is a way to train our subconscious selves to make the correct decisions. Are we culpable for our subconscious decisions or are we slaves to them?

Additional evidence cited by Gazzaniga suggests that if certain parts of the brain are impaired, an actor can recognize a bad decision but cannot reject the bad decision.

Ironically, Gazzaniga claims that if criminals are not actually responsible for their crimes, then it is immoral to blame a criminal for his criminal or immoral behavior. If determinism really does rule the day, can we actually blame the blamers? If people are not responsible for their choices, then the blamers would not be any more morally responsible for assigning blame than the recipients of that blame. The implications of determinism are truly endless.

Gazzinga also points out the fact that criminals and schizophrenics can follow rules because they stop at red traffic lights. Clearly, there is some innate or developed ability to follow rules. If this is a developed trait, perhaps the criminal justice system can be used to enhance the development of this ability in criminals. Maybe neuroscience will discover the ways in which this ability can be enhanced and this will allow the criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution. This would also not require as complete of change in the criminal justice system so a focus on this area could be very fruitful.

While Gazzaniga discusses the problem he does not offer any clear solution or conclusions. Indeed, his article (like my blog post) seems to raise more questions than answers. In the end, it is clear that if determinism becomes the accepted philosophy of the criminal justice system, that system will need to be completely rethought.
Posted by      Jessica S. at 10:25 PM MDT
Tags: law


  ali f.  says:
Posted on Sun, 26 Jan 2020 7:42 PM MST by ali f.
  Nathan J.  says:
Yes, this has been an ongoing debate. It's different in the court of law and if not proven to be reasonable beyond doubt, it will be disregarded by the judge. I'm still looking forward to the improvements of this claim. law firm Sydney
Posted on Thu, 13 Feb 2020 5:31 AM MST by Nathan J.

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