Data regarding gender disparities in sentencing are contradictory. We argue that one reason for the mixed results is that female defendants who commit similar crimes are treated differently depending upon whether the defense portrays them as someone with serious mental deficiencies or as a normal person who got caught up in abnormal circumstances. We suggest that judges and juries use neuroscience data to support their preconceived notions of what “bad” women are like, even as defense counsel presents these data to support claims that their clients are less culpable. Using a case study approach, we do a pair-wise comparison of four appellate decisions in which female defendants were accused of committing similar crimes under similar circumstances, but for whom data regarding brain impairments differed substantially to determine what difference the neuroscience data might make in case outcomes. This analysis provides preliminary data suggesting that neuroscience data can act to promote a defendant’s blameworthiness even as it is used to mitigate the findings.
The Impact of Neuroscience Data in Criminal Cases: Female Defendants and the Double-Edged Sword
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Valerie Gray Hardcastle, M. K. Kitzmiller, Shelby Lahey; The Impact of Neuroscience Data in Criminal Cases: Female Defendants and the Double-Edged Sword. New Criminal Law Review 1 May 2018; 21 (2): 291–315. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/nclr.2018.21.2.291
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