Traumatic Brain Injury, Neuroscience, and the Legal System



Valerie Gray Hardcastle


October 2014



This essay addresses the question: What is the probative value of including neuroscience data in court cases where the defendant might have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? That is, this essay attempts to articulate how well we can connect scientific data and clinical test results to the demands of the Daubert standard in the United States’ court system, and, given the fact that neuroimaging is already being used in our courts, what, if anything, we should do about this fact. Ultimately, I am not sure that there are completely satisfactory answers to this query at this particular time in our legal history. I briefly rehearse the recent use of brain research in our legal system, summarize how neuroscience data regarding TBI and its relation to poor behavioral outcomes are currently used in the courtroom, review challenges with using these data, and highlight fundamental tensions between how the legal system views the causes of behavior and how medicine, neuroscience, and psychology do. Until these tensions are resolved, it is unclear the place neuroscience data should have in courts.






Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee