Brain Injury and Crime
The basics of home electrical wiring are fairly straightforward— the hot (“live”) wire delivers power (120 volts) to lights, receptacles, etc. and is easily identified by its covering of black sheathing; the white-colored wire is the neutral conductor that carries energy away from the lights and receptacles, and a bare copper ground wire whose purpose is to conduct excess energy that might be a shock and/or fire hazard.
Of course, as in law enforcement, there are exceptions to the rule, such as the wiring for appliances that require 240-volts—water heater, clothes dryer, ranges, or well pump. But even these exceptions are clearly defined in electrical guidelines as set by the National Electrical Code (NEC)—both black and white wires are used as “hot” wires with the bare copper still serving as ground wire.
So, as you can clearly see, there is a defined and organized set of rules when it comes to electrical wiring. But what happens when, say, the conductor inside a black “hot” wire touches that of a white neutral wire, or the bare ground wire? Easy answer … a short circuit which causes a breaker to trip or, in the old days, a fuse would “blow.” And that’s sort of what happens when damage occurs to a section of the human brain called Wernicke’s area.
Wernicke’s area is located in the back part of the temporal lobe which is positioned most frequently in the left hemisphere of the brain, but not always (sounds eerily similar to the “gray area” operations and function of U.S. courts and laws, doesn’t it?).
The aftermath of an injury to the Wernicke’s area of the brain—Wernicke’s aphasia—, be it caused by a stroke or physical injury, is a language disorder resulting in a loss of the ability to produce meaningful, understandable language, both spoken and in written form.
I’ve seen the result of this sort of damage caused by a stroke. The individual simply could not manage to find the proper words for various items. Their sentences were a jumble of words in no particular order that made no sense and often had no relation to what it appeared they were referencing. They often know what they want to say but cannot produce the correct words to say it.
In time, I understood what they were trying to convey, sometimes, but it took a long time to reach that point.
To give an idea of the effects of Wernicke’s aphasia, here’s a video of a stroke victim who suffers from it.
Brain Injury and Criminals
Neuropsychologist Kim Gorgens’s research shows that a whopping 50 to 80 percent of people in the U.S. criminal justice system have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury (TBI). In the general public, though, that number is less than 5 percent.
Simply put, a TBI is a disruption in brain function caused by an external blow to the head. When speaking of the TBIs of criminal offenders, the 50-80 percent group mentioned above, these injuries are the kinds that required hospitalization, not merely a small knock to the old noggin. Severe injuries. The kind experienced by professional athletes, for example.
Gorgen reports that nearly all women in the criminal justice system have been, at some time, been exposed to interpersonal assault/violence and abuse, with more than half having received repeated brain injuries.
We all know about MRI technology (magnetic resonance imaging) and the clunking, bumping, and thumping of those hulking claustrophobic chambers of horror, the devices that use a magnetic field and radio waves to create incredibly detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body. They see our insides and then capture those images for later review by medical professionals.
But there’s another type of MRI—fMRI—that’s capable of measuring tiny changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) may be used to detect which parts of the brain are handling critical functions and to assess the effects of stroke or other disease.
Neurolaw, as an interdisciplinary field which links the brain to law, facilitates the pathway to better understanding of human behavior in order to regulate it accurately through incorporating neuroscience achievements in legal studies. ~ U.S. National Law of Medicine
In capital murder trials (death penalty cases), MRIs have been used to evaluate brain injury. The purpose of this testing is to ensure that there’s not some underlying medical cause for the defendant’s criminal behavior. For example, the case of John W. Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan and three other people back in 1981.
Hinkley’s attorneys argued that he was insane. They also introduced scientific evidence to help explain and support their claim—a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan that suggested their client had an atrophied brain. They said his brain appeared shrunken, or smaller than it should have been. As a result, this evidence helped convince the jury to find Hinckley not responsible by reason of insanity.
Today, there’s a push to use fMRI to help to identify differences in the brain between a rational and knowing state of mind and one that’s reckless/devil-may-care. The former may help judges impose lighter sentences or treatment options in lieu of the harsher penalties reserved for criminals who absolutely know right from wrong but knowingly opt for wrong.
Who knows, perhaps someday in the near future there’ll be no need for courts and trials and attorneys. Instead, at the point of arrest, officers will use series of wires and cables to connect a suspect’s mind to a handheld device that’s capable of instantly determining guilt or innocence or not guilty by reason of crossed wires … a short circuit. The result of a black wire touching a white one somewhere near the point of the brain where good and evil are the closest.
I heard a neuropsychologist speak years ago to a group of criminal defense lawyers. She said a large percentage of criminals have some type of learning disability. The lawyers laughed at first, til she started talking about case studies. One by one, the lawyers started nodding and saying to each other, “that sounds just like one of my clients”.
IIRC the man who kidnapped and killed Polly Klaas had suffered several TBIs starting in his childhood.