, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 255–270 | Cite as

Neurolaw in Australia: The Use of Neuroscience in Australian Criminal Proceedings

  • Armin AlimardaniEmail author
  • Jason Chin
Original Paper


Recent research has detailed the use of neuroscience in several jurisdictions, but Australia remains a notable omission. To fill this substantial void we performed a systematic review of neuroscience in Australian criminal cases. The first section of this article reports the results of our review by detailing the purposes for which neuroscience is admitted into Australian criminal courts. We found that neuroscience is being admitted pre-trial (as evidence of fitness to stand trial), at trial (to support the defence of insanity and substantial impairment of the mind), and during sentencing. In the second section, we evaluate these applications. We generally found that courts admit neuroscience cautiously, and to supplement more well-established forms of evidence. Still, we found some instances in which the court seemed to misunderstand the neuroscience. These cases ranged from interpreting neuroscience as “objective” evidence to admitting neuroscience when the same non-neuroscientific psychiatric evidence would be inadmissible for being common sense. Furthermore, in some cases, neuroscientific evidence presents a double-edged sword; it may serve to either aggravate or mitigate a sentence. Thus, the decision about whether or not to tender this evidence is risky.


Neurolaw Australian criminal justice system Neuroscience Criminal law Law and science Law and technology Sentencing 



Special thanks to Prof. Gary Edmond, Dr. Allan McCay, Prof. Nicole Vincent and anonymous reviewers for providing feedback that greatly improved the manuscript.


  1. 1.
    Chandler, Jennifer A. 2016. The use of neuroscientific evidence in Canadian criminal proceedings. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2. Oxford University Press: 550–579.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Catley, Paul, and Lisa Claydon. 2015. The use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom by those accused of criminal offenses in England and Wales. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2. Oxford University Press: 510–549.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    de Kogel, C.H., and E.J.M.C. Westgeest. 2015. Neuroscientific and behavioral genetic information in criminal cases in the Netherlands. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2: 580–605. Scholar
  4. 4.
    Farahany, Nita A. 2016. Neuroscience and behavioral genetics in US criminal law: an empirical analysis. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2. Oxford University Press: 485–509.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Denno, Deborah W. 2015. The Myth of the Double-Edged Sword: An Empirical Study of Neuroscience Evidence in Criminal Cases. Boston College Law Review 56. Boston College School of Law: 493–551.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Denno, Deborah W. 2016. How Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys Differ in Their Use of Neuroscience Evidence. Fordham L. Rev. 85. HeinOnline: 453–479.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Houston, L, and A Vierboom. 2012. Neuroscience and law: Australia. International Neurolaw. Springer Berlin Heidelberg: 11–42.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Page, Ellie A. 2017. The Criminal Mind: Neuroscientific Evidence as a Mitigating Factor in Sentencing in New South Wales, Australia. Pac. Rim L. & Pol’y J. 26. HeinOnline: 659–691.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Dumit, Joseph. 1999. Objective brains, prejudicial images. Science in Context 12. Cambridge University Press: 173–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Morse, Stephen J. 2005. Brain overclaim syndrome and criminal responsibility: A diagnostic note. Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 3. HeinOnline: 397.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Slobogin, Christopher. 2017. Neuroscience nuance: dissecting the relevance of neuroscience in adjudicating criminal culpability. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 4: 577–593. Scholar
  12. 12.
    Szucs, Denes, and John P.A. Ioannidis. 2017. Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature. PLoS Biology 15. Public Library of Science: e2000797. Scholar
  13. 13.
    Faigman, David L, Richard J Bonnie, B J Casey, Andre Davis, Morris B Hoffman, Owen D Jones, Read Montague, Stephen Morse, Marcus E Raichle, and Jennifer A Richeson. 2016. G2i Knowledge Brief: A Knowledge Brief of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Buckholtz, Joshua W, Valerie F Reyna, and Christopher Slobogin. 2016. A neuro-legal lingua franca: Bridging law and neuroscience on the issue of self-control. (Forthcoming; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 16–32) Mental Health Law & Policy Journal.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Raine, A. 2013. The anatomy of violence: The biological roots of crime. Vintage. Vintage.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Campbell, Ian Graham. 1988. Mental disorder and criminal law in Australia and New Zealand. Lexis Pub.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Freckelton, Ian. 1996. Rationality and flexibility in assessment of fitness to stand trail. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 19. Elsevier Science: 39–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Mullen, Paul E. 2002. Commentary: Competence assessment practices in England and Australia versus the United States. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online 30. American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: 486–487.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Samuels, Anthony, Colman O’Driscoll, and Stephen Allnutt. 2007. Fitness issues in the context of judicial proceedings. In Australasian Psychiatry, vol. 15, 212–216. London: SAGE Publications Sage UK.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Bronitt, Simon, and Bernadette McSherry. 2017. Principles of Criminal Law. Thomson Reuters (Professional) Australia Pty Limited. 4th ed.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Allnutt, Stephen, Anthony Samuels, and Colman O’driscoll. 2007. The insanity defence: from wild beasts to M’Naghten. Australasian Psychiatry: Bulletin of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 15: 292–298. Scholar
  22. 22.
    Morse, Stephen J. 2002. Uncontrollable urges and irrational people. Virginia Law Review. JSTOR: 1025–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    McSherry, Bernadette, and Bronwyn Glynis Naylor. 2004. Australian criminal laws: Critical perspectives. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Tulich, Tamara. 2015. Post-Sentence Preventative Detention and Extended Supervision of High Risk Offenders in New South Wales. UNSWLJ 38. HeinOnline: 823–853.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    McSherry, Bernadette. 2005. Indefinite and preventive detention legislation: From caution to an open door. Criminal Law Journal 29: 94–110.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Keyzer, Patrick, Cathy Pereira, and Stephen Southwood. 2004. Pre-emptive imprisonment for dangerousness in Queensland under the Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003: The constitutional issues. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 11. Taylor & Francis: 244–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Schweitzer, Nicholas J., Michael J. Saks, Emily R. Murphy, Adina L. Roskies, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Lyn M. Gaudet. 2011. Neuroimages as evidence in a mens rea defense: No impact. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 17. American Psychological Association: 357–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Legrenzi, Paolo, and Carlo Umiltà. 2011. Neuromania: On the limits of brain science. Translated by Frances Anderson. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Weisberg, Deena Skolnick, Frank C. Keil, Joshua Goodstein, Elizabeth Rawson, and Jeremy R. Gray. 2008. The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20. MIT Press: 470–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Jones, OD, and FX Shen. 2012. Law and neuroscience in the United States. In International Neurolaw: A Comparative Analysis, ed. Tade Matthias Spranger, 349–380. Springer.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Steinberg, Laurence. 2009. Adolescent development and juvenile justice. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 5. Annual Reviews: 459–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Scott, Elizabeth S., Richard J. Bonnie, and Laurence Steinberg. 2016. Young Adulthood as a Transitional Legal Category: Science, Social Change, and Justice Policy. Fordham L. Rev. 85. HeinOnline: 641–666.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Grisso, Thomas, and Antoinette Kavanaugh. 2016. Prospects for developmental evidence in juvenile sentencing based on Miller v. Alabama. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 22. American Psychological Association: 235–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Scott, Elizabeth, Thomas Grisso, Marsha Levick, and Laurence Steinberg. 2015. The Supreme Court and the transformation of juvenile sentencing. New York: Trustees of Columbia University.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Cohen, Alexandra O., Kaitlyn Breiner, Laurence Steinberg, Richard J. Bonnie, Elizabeth S. Scott, Kim Taylor-Thompson, Marc D. Rudolph, et al. 2016. When Is an Adolescent an Adult? Assessing Cognitive Control in Emotional and Nonemotional Contexts. Psychological Science 27. SAGE Publications Inc: 549–562. Scholar
  36. 36.
    Cohen, Alexandra O., Richard J. Bonnie, Kim Taylor-Thompson, and B.J. Casey. 2015. When Does a Juvenile Become an Adult: Implications for Law and Policy. Temp. L. Rev. 88. HeinOnline: 769–943.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Cauffman, Elizabeth, and Laurence Steinberg. 2012. Emerging findings from research on adolescent development and juvenile justice. Victims & Offenders 7. Taylor & Francis: 428–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Shen, Francis X. 2010. The Law and Neuroscience Bibliography: Navigating the Emerging Field of Neurolaw. International Journal of Legal Information 38: 352–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Morse, Stephen. 2018. Neuroscience Evidence in Forensic Contexts: Ethical Concerns. In Ethics Challenges in Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology Practice, ed. Ezra Griffith, 132–158. New York: Columbia University Press. Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Vul, Edward, Christine Harris, Piotr Winkielman, and Harold Pashler. 2009. Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotion, personality, and social cognition. Perspectives on Psychological Science 4. SAGE Publications Sage CA: Los Angeles: 274–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Poldrack, Russell A., John Monahan, Peter B. Imrey, Valerie Reyna, Marcus E. Raichle, David Faigman, and Joshua W. Buckholtz. 2018. Predicting Violent Behavior: What Can Neuroscience Add? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22: 111–123. Scholar
  42. 42.
    Bennett, Elizabeth. 2016. Neuroscience and Criminal Law: Have We Been Getting It Wrong for Centuries and Where Do We Go from Here. Fordham L. Rev. 85. HeinOnline: 437–451.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Heydon, John Dyson, and Sir Rupert Cross. 2015. Cross on evidence. LexisNexis Australia.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Bright, David A., and Jane Goodman-Delahunty. 2006. Gruesome evidence and emotion: anger, blame, and jury decision-making. Law and Human Behavior 30. Germany: Springer: 183–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Glannon, Walter. 2014. The Limitations and Potential of Neuroimaging in the Criminal Law. The Journal of Ethics 18: 153–170. Scholar
  46. 46.
    Brown, Teneille R, and Emily R Murphy. 2010. Through a scanner darkly: functional neuroimaging as evidence of a criminal defendant’s past mental states. Stanford law review 62.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Morse, S., and W. Newsome. 2013. Criminal responsibility, criminal competence, and prediction of criminal behavior. In A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience, eds. Stephen J. Morse and Adina L. Roskies, 150–178. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Satel, Sally, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. 2013. Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. In Basic Books. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Sprooten, Emma, Alexander Rasgon, Morgan Goodman, Ariella Carlin, Evan Leibu, Won Hee Lee, and Sophia Frangou. 2017. Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta-analyses of task-related brain activation in common mental disorders. Human Brain Mapping 38. Wiley Online Library: 1846–1864. Scholar
  50. 50.
    Shen, Francis X., Emily Twedell, Caitlin Opperman, Jordan Dean Scott Krieg, Mikaela Brandt-Fontaine, Joshua Preston, Jaleh McTeigue, Alina Yasis, and Morgan Carlson. 2017. The limited effect of electroencephalography memory recognition evidence on assessments of defendant credibility. Journal of Law and the Biosciences 4: 330–364. Scholar
  51. 51.
    Rhodes, Rebecca E, Fernando Rodriguez, and Priti Shah. 2014. Explaining the alluring influence of neuroscience information on scientific reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 40. American Psychological Association: 1432.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Jones, Owen D. 2013. Seven Ways Neuroscience Aids Law. In Neurosciences and the Human Person: New Perspectives on Human Activities, ed. Antonio M. Battro, Stanislas Dehaene, Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, and Wolf J. Singer, 181. Vatican City: The Pontifical Academy of Sciences.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Farahany, Nita A., and James E. Coleman Jr. 2009. Genetics, Neuroscience, and Criminal Responsibility. In The impact of behavioral sciences on criminal law, ed. Nita A. Farahany, 183–240. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Barth, Abram S. 2007. A double-edged sword: The role of neuroimaging in federal capital sentencing. American Journal of Law & Medicine 33: 501–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Keyzer, Patrick, and Bernadette M. McSherry. 2006. The Preventive Detention of “Dangerous” Sex Offenders in Australia: Perspectives at the Coalface. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology 2: 296–305.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawThe University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.TC Beirne School of LawUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

Personalised recommendations