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August 1993

The Neurological Defense of Violent Crime: 'Insanity Defense' Retooled

Author Affiliations

From Neurology Associates PC, Washington, DC, and the Department of Neurology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

Arch Neurol. 1993;50(8):869-871. doi:10.1001/archneur.1993.00540080072018

Recently, courts have displayed a willingness to entertain neurological explanations for violent behavior. This has encouraged defense attorneys to replace the traditional insanity plea arguments with the neurological defense: the claim that neurological factors impaired the ability of the convicted killer to control violent impulses.

What is at stake here is a radical reevaluation of the traditional concept of free will. The neurologic defense resolves the traditional tension between the bad and the mad by redefinition: the bad and the brain damaged, or, as one expert refers to them, the "biophysiological defectives."

Despite the employment of computed tomographic scans, electroencephalograms, and other tests that are purported to reveal important information about the state of mind and motivations of persons who have murdered, the neurological defense is nothing more than a hyped-up pseudoscientific version of the insanity defense that most juries in most trials in this country have had the wisdom

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