The use of neuroscientific evidence in criminal trials has been steadily increasing.
Despite progress made in recent decades in understanding the mechanisms of
psychological and behavioral functioning, neuroscience is still in an early stage of
development and its potential for influencing legal decision-making is highly contentious.
Scholars disagree about whether or how neuroscientific evidence might impact
prescriptions of criminal culpability, particularly in instances in which evidence of an
accused’s history of mental illness or brain abnormality is offered to support a plea of not
criminally responsible. In the context of these debates, philosophers and legal scholars
have identified numerous problems with admitting neuroscientific evidence in legal
contexts. To date, however, less has been said about the challenges of evaluating the
evidence upon which integrative mechanistic explanations that bring together evidence
from different areas of neuroscience are based. As we explain, current criteria for
evaluating such evidence to determine its admissibility in legal contexts are inadequate.
Appealing to literature in the philosophy of scientific experimentation and theoretical
work in the social, cognitive and behavioral sciences, we lay the groundwork for
reforming these criteria and identify some of the implications of modifying them.