There have been significant advances recently in understanding the biological basis of human behavior. Brain imaging technologies, such as Functional MRI (fMRI), allow researchers to study brain processes during complex thought processes. fMRI can be used to study a variety of behaviors, and some people have proposed that the scans can be used to detect lying, although it has never been accepted in court.
In this case, a murder trial, the fMRI evidence was used at the sentencing stage in an attempt to show that the defendant suffered from a brain disorder and should be spared the death penalty. The jury did not agree and the man was sentenced to death, although there may have been some doubts raised.
For what may be the first time, fMRI scans of brain activity have been used as evidence in the sentencing phase of a murder trial. Defense lawyers for an Illinois man convicted of raping and killing a 10-year-old girl used the scans to argue that their client should be spared the death penalty because he has a brain disorder.