Copyright (c) 1999 University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law
The Journal of Appellate Practice and Process
EASSY: THE LAW AND THE BRAIN: JUDGING SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OF INTENT
1 J. App. Prac. & Process 243
Erica Beecher-Monas * and Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D. **
As evidentiary gatekeepers, judges must be ready to evaluate expert testimony about science and the brain. A wide variety of cases present issues of mental state, many doubtless with battling experts seeking to testify on these issues. This poses a dilemma for nonspecialist judges. How is a nonscientist to judge scientific evidence? How can a nonscientist decide if testimony about mental state meets the criteria of good science? This essay offers a general overview of the issue of evaluating scientific evidence and is aimed at exploring the issues involved, but not attempting easy answers. Of necessity, this requires thinking about how science works. It is also an introduction to the special case of mental capacity, which requires thinking about how the brain works.
Exercising discretion about expert testimony is a radically different task today than it used to be. In a series of three revolutionary cases, the Supreme Court transformed the jurisprudence of expert admissibility determinations, with results that are reverberating throughout the judicial system. The Supreme Court's revolutionary trio explains that judges are the gatekeepers of the testimony that is heard in their courtrooms, and that all expert testimony - including expert psychological testimony - must meet standards of scientific validity. Although mental health testimony is crucial to criminal jurisprudence as well as to a range of civil actions, the courts have been permitting experts to testify to outmoded and unscientific notions without any scrutiny of the scientific validity of the testimony. Failure to ...
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