Research Reports - Efficacy of legal judgements for defendants with traumatic brain injury

NeuroRehabilitation. 2016 Jun 23. [Epub ahead of print]

St Pierre ME, Parente R.

BACKGROUND: Literature has compared the frequency of aggressive behaviors of the
TBI population and the non-TBI population, suggesting that the TBI population are
more predisposed to aggressive tendencies because the injury enables impulsivity,
loss of self-control, and the inability to modify behaviors. These behavior
changes have consequently, been found to lead to criminal involvement. In fact,
the majority of the prison population has sustained at least one TBI in their
lifetime compared to the prevalence of brain injuries in the general population.
However, there is little research investigating the perceptions of criminality,
and guilt of these individuals.
METHODS: Two experiments were conducted that investigated the perceptions of
morality, level of guilt, and appropriate sentencing of crimes committed by
defendants with different severity of TBI (i.e., mild, severe, and no TBI).
Participants were asked to read scenarios about crimes being committed by the
defendant. Experiment 1 used a 1-between (crime), 1-within (TBI) mixed design
ANOVA testing three dependent variables (morality, guilt, and sentencing). Using
a more in vivo jury approach, Experiment 2 used a 3 (TBI)×2 (crime) independent
groups factorial design testing the three dependent measures.
RESULTS: Overall, defendants with TBI were found less guilty of their crime,
perceived as behaving morally to the crime, and receiving a milder punishment
relative to the no-TBI defendants.
CONCLUSIONS: In the courtroom, the defense attorney should educate the judge
and/or the jury on the effects brain injuries have on the cognition, behavior,
and emotions of an individual. Thus, this education will ensure the best verdict
is being reached. 

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