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Copyright (c) 2011 Walter F. George School of Law, Mercer University
Mercer Law Review

ARTICLE: Neuropsychiatry in the Courtroom

Spring, 2011

Mercer Law Review

62 Mercer L. Rev. 933


by Richard L. Elliott*


I. Introduction
This Symposium, "The Brain Sciences in the Courtroom," will make frequent reference to neuropsychiatry, neuroimaging, and brain science, and assumes a rudimentary understanding of neuroscience. While some readers have considerable experience in these areas, others might benefit from a brief introduction to key concepts in neuroscience, and to their applications in the courtroom from a historical perspective. In providing such an introduction, several points will become clear. For 200 years, lawyers, judges, and expert witnesses have struggled to understand how neuroscience can be helpful in the courtroom, with varying degrees of success. This is, in part, due to the fact that the brain is even more complex than might be supposed, rendering any attempt to reduce human emotion and behavior to a simple causal explanation, easily comprehensible to decisionmakers, intractable. With this limitation, the ultimate goal of this review is to provide a background to understand some of the promises and limitations that forensic neuropsychiatry has to offer. We begin by describing neuropsychiatry, presenting a brief introduction to the organization in the brain, and reviewing several historical cases illustrating problems applying neuropsychiatry in legal settings.

II. What is Neuropsychiatry? 1
Neuropsychiatry can be defined as that branch of medicine concerning mental disorders arising from the nervous system, emphasizing the organic or physical causes and explanations for mental disorders, and using neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurochemistry as its basic building blocks. Forensic neuropsychiatry is the application of this knowledge in legal ...
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