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The Brain on Trial

The past two decades have seen amazing advances in our understanding of how the brain functions. In particular, new and improved imaging technologies have inspired research studies that are designed to elucidate how brain structure and function relate to behavior. Not surprisingly, new findings in neuroscience are beginning to gain visibility in the legal system, including in the courtroom. In just the past few years, judges have been confronted with neuroscience-related issues like the maturity of the adolescent brain, states of consciousness, and the foibles of human memory. This symposium examines how one such issue, the connection between brain structure and function and violent behavior, could play out in criminal trials.

The session is formatted as a mock trial, with real attorneys, real neuroscientists, and a real judge. Prosecuting and defense attorneys call on neuroscience experts to offer testimony regarding neuroimaging of a fictitious defendant’s brain lesion.Sepcifically, the experts are asked to address whether the lesion left the defendant incapable of forming an intent to commit murder, thus making him not guilty of murder in the first degree. The two lawyers also offer legal arguments related to the standards for the admissibility of new technologies, personal responsibility, and whether the connection between brain imaging and behavior is reliable enough to be admitted as evidence in a criminal trial. And a judge discusses the factors that guide judicial decision making in cases like this.

November 2011 | November 2010 | February 2010 | Speaker Biographies

November 2011: AAAS Science, Technology and Policy Fellowships (View the flyer)

Appearing for the State

  • Attorney: Henry Greely, J.D. Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, Stanford University.
  • Expert: Michael Rafii, M.D. , Ph.D. Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego.

Appearing for the Defense

  • Attorney: Geoff Cheshire, J.D., Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona detailed to the Office of Defender Service’s Legal and Policy Branch in Washington, DC
  • Expert: James Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., Neurologist and Associate Professor of Neurosciences and Radiology University of California, San Diego.

Presiding: Honorable Paul Grimm, J.D., Chief Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

Moderating: Michael J. Zigmond, Ph.D. Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh

November 2010: Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting (View the flyer)

Appearing for the State

  • Attorney: Henry Greely, J.D. Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, Stanford University.
  • Expert: Michael Rafii, M.D. , Ph.D. Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego.

Appearing for the Defense

  • Attorney: Robert Knaier, J.D, Associate, San Diego office of Latham & Watkins, LLP.
  • Expert: James Brewer, M.D. , Ph.D. Neurologist and Associate Professor of Neurosciences and Radiology University of California, San Diego.

Presiding: Honorable Luis A. Rodriguez, Judge, Superior Court of Orange County California

Moderating: Michael J. Zigmond, Ph.D. Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh

The program was supported by an educational grant from Lilly USA, LLC.

February 2010: AAAS Annual Meeting

Appearing for the State

  • Attorney: Henry Greely, J.D. Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, Stanford University.
  • Expert: Michael Rafii, M.D. , Ph.D. Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego.

Appearing for the Defense

  • Attorney: Robert Knaier, J.D, Associate, San Diego office of Latham & Watkins, LLP.
  • Expert: James Brewer, M.D. , Ph.D. Neurologist and Associate Professor of Neurosciences and Radiology, University of California, San Diego.

Presiding: Honorable Luis A. Rodriguez, Judge, Superior Court of Orange County California

Moderating: Michael J. Zigmond, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh

Speaker Biographies

James Brewer, M.D. , Ph.D.

James Brewer is a neurologist and Associate Professor of Neurosciences and Radiology at the University of California, San Diego. He received his graduate and medical training at Stanford University and his neurology residency training at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Brewer’s laboratory uses functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study memory processes in volunteers with healthy memory and in patients with memory difficulties, such as in Alzheimer’s disease. He teaches neurosciences and neurology to graduate students, medical students, and residents. He is a lecturer in courses on fMRI and memory, assists in neuroanatomy instruction for UCSD medical students, is an active participant in the Neurosciences Graduate Program and advises neurology residents in clinical neurology.

Geoff Cheshire, J.D.

Mr. Geoff Cheshire is an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona detailed to the Office of Defender Service’s Legal and Policy Branch in Washington, DC. He is the national chair of the Federal Bar Association’s Criminal Law Section and member of the Ninth Circuit’s Conference Executive Committee. He has presented nationally on federal sentencing issues and taught criminal immigration law at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. Mr. Cheshire currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his wife and three children.

Henry Greely, J.D.

Hank Greely is the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, by courtesy, of Genetics at Stanford University. He specializes in ethical, legal, and social issues arising from advances in the biosciences and in health law and policy. He has written on issues arising from genetics, neuroscience, and human stem cell research, among other things. He chairs the California Advisory Committee on Human Stem Cell Research and the steering committee of the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, and directs the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences. In 2006, he was elected a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science.

Honorable Paul Grimm, J.D.

Judge Paul W. Grimm serves as Chief Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. He was appointed to the Court in February 1997. In September 2009 the Chief Justice of the United States appointed Judge Grimm to serve as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Additionally, Judge Grimm is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and the University of Maryland School of Law, where he teaches courses on evidence and discovery, and he has written extensively on both topics.

Robert Knaier, J.D.

Robert Knaier is an associate in the San Diego office of Latham & Watkins, LLP. He practices in the firm’s Litigation Department and is a member of the Product Liability, Mass Torts & Consumer Class Actions practice group and the Appellate practice group. Prior to joining Latham & Watkins, Mr. Knaier served as a law clerk for the Honorable Richard C. Wesley of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Mr. Knaier has significant experience in mass-tort litigation, class actions, environmental litigation, commercial litigation, and appellate practice. In mass-tort litigation, he specializes in medical causation and scientific evidence. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego, in 1999 and from Cornell Law School in 2003. Mr. Knaier is admitted to practice in California and New York, as well as in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Ninth Circuits, and the U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Northern, and Eastern Districts of California.

Michael Rafii, M.D. , Ph.D.

Michael Rafii is Director of the Memory Disorders Clinic and Assistant Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. He is also Associate Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study. He specializes in cognitive disorders, including dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease. His current research interests include neuroimaging and clinical trials and the effects of chemotherapy on cognitive performance. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Brown University and conducted neurogenetics research at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Rafii went on to complete his neurology residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and fellowship in Dementia and Cognitive Disorders at the University of California, San Diego.

Honorable Luis A. Rodriguez

Luis A. Rodriguez, Judge, Superior Court of Orange County California, upon unification (8/10/98 – Present); Judge, North Municipal Court, Orange County (1994 – 1998); Appointed Judge by Governor Pete Wilson and then elected to term 1994,2000,2006; and Current term expires 2012. Senior Assistant City Attorney, City of Orange (1989-1994); Deputy City Attorney, City of Santa Ana (1983-1989);  Private Practice, Los Angeles and San Diego (1980-1983); University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall Law School, J.D. (1980); University of California at San Diego, B.A. (1977). Judge Rodriguez has served on the faculty for the CJER New Judge Orientation (1996-2004); California Judicial College (1995-2003); Bernard-Witkin Judicial College (1995-2001); State Symposium on Adjudication of Vehicle Code Enforcement (2000); Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County, Unlawful Detainer and Ethics (1999, 2000); CJER Spring Institute for New Assignments (1999); and CEB Landlord-Tenant Seminar (1997-1998). He has attended and participated in numerous conferences on Business, Real Estate Valuation, Juvenile Law, Criminal Law, and, Science and the law including assisting in presenting first ever institute “Neuro-science for judges” presented in 2006 in Riverside California. He has been awarded the 2004 Award and Appreciation from the South Orange County Bar Association and the 1998 Ambassador of Peace Award from the Orange County Violence Prevention Coalition.

Michael J. Zigmond, Ph.D.

Michael J. Zigmond is a Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh, where his laboratory explores issues of neuronal death and neuroprotection as they apply to neurodegenerative diseases. He currently is investigating the influence of stress and exercise on the vulnerability of the brain to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Zigmond is associated with the Survival Skills and Ethics Program, which provides training in matters of professional development and ethics at the University of Pittsburgh and at many other institutions around the world. Dr. Zigmond was a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee that produces the report on Integrity in Scientific Research: Creating an Environment that Promotes Responsible Conduct.