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AAAS Honored with Judicial Education Award for Seminars on Neuroscience in the Courtroom

The American Bar Association (ABA) has honored AAAS with its 2009 Judicial Education Award for a nationwide series of seminars on neuroscience issues emerging in courtrooms and the law.

The award was presented 30 July 2009 during the annual meeting of the ABA Judicial Division's National Conference of Specialized Court Judges. Receiving the award on behalf of AAAS was Mark S. Frankel, director of the AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program and lead organizer of the seminars.

"AAAS provides education to judges about neuroscience—the science of the brain—which is a science that can directly affect matters that come before courts regarding the admissibility of evidence and decisions about criminal culpability," said Judge John Rosson, who serves on the City Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, and chairs the awards committee for the national judges' group. "I felt this institution was very deserving because in developing the seminars, topics were selected that would be of interest to all of the judges participating and would have a practical use."


Judge Delissa Ridgway, one of the nominating judges; Deborah Runkle, AAAS senior program associate; Mark S. Frankel; Barbara Rich, vice president and program officer, Dana Foundation; Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn, the other nominator.

Judge Delissa A. Ridgway, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, attended one of the seminars, and was so impressed that she was one of two judges to nominate AAAS for the Judicial Education Award.

"The AAAS judicial seminars are invaluable for judges today, who increasingly find themselves on the frontiers of neuroscience and the law," Ridgway said. "It is difficult to imagine that there could be another judicial education initiative anywhere that is more deserving of recognition than the AAAS' innovative and visionary program of seminars."

AAAS is the first science organization to win the Judicial Education Award. Over the past three years, nearly 150 local, state, and federal judges have attended nine AAAS seminars held in locales as diverse as Washington, D.C.; Houston, Texas; and Reno, Nevada. Two judges who each attended one of the sessions nominated AAAS for the award.

What draws judges to the one- or two-day seminars is the chance to hear presentations and join discussions on complex issues that have emerged only in recent years as research, aided by brain imaging and other advanced technology, has begun to shed new light on human behavior—including criminal behavior.

The presentations are made by some of the nation's foremost experts in neuroscience and the law. They cover a range of topics: the basics of brain anatomy; the development of the adolescent brain; developments in brain scanning and imaging; neuroscience perspectives on memory, deception, substance abuse, and violence; and debates over the science of lie-detection technology.

These advances can have profound implications for the justice system—in cases involving child neglect and abuse, for example, in crimes committed by drug addicts, or in understanding acts of violence.

"The award is recognition of the value of alerting judges to the limits and potential of emerging neuroscience advances that they face, or will face, in their courtrooms," said Frankel. "Judges make decisions that impact people's lives daily, and this partnership between AAAS and the judiciary is intended to inform those decisions with the best science available."

The National Conference of Specialized Court Judges is comprised of judges who preside over matters dealing with taxes, probate and wills, traffic, juvenile justice, domestic relations, environmental issues, small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, tribal courts, and other fields.

The Dana Foundation has provided funding for the seminar series. The Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law, and the National Judicial College are among the co-sponsors of the seminars.