New UW-Madison degree caters to increase in science in the court systemThe number of scientific experts testifying in court for both the prosecution and the defense has been increasing at a rapid pace.
By: Gilman Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
The number of scientific experts testifying in court for both the prosecution and the defense has been increasing at a rapid pace. That means lawyers often have to become experts in bio chemistry or genetics just to do their job. That's one of the reasons the UW-Madison law school is launching a dual degree this year in law and neuroscience.
When we think of experts in the courtroom these days it's usually something to do with DNA samples, poison or toxic pollutants. But UW neuroscience professor Ronald Kalil says increasingly understanding the nervous system and especially the brain is becoming essential in many areas of law. He says recent research on adolescent brain development calls into question how we judge the criminal liability of a teenager.
"In this state if you are 10 year old and you are implicated in a capital crime you get swept into the adult justice system,” Kalil said. “Our system of common law is predicated on the notion that at all times we are rational reasonable actors and therefore responsible for what we do. And this of course is not true. And neuroscience is helping to push back that notion dramatically."
These issues were debated before the state Supreme Court this year in the case of a 14-year old who murdered a classmate 13 years ago and is now seeking a reduction of his life without parole sentence. Kalil says the new dual degree will help law students who expect to be representing or prosecuting juveniles prepare themselves better. UW law professor Pilar Ossorio says it will also serve students on a neuroscience career path.
"They might be a really great neuroscientist scientist who is doing research asking questions that are pertinent to legal problems," Ossorio said.
The dual degree program is accepting students this fall. It includes courses in both constitutional and criminal law as well as developmental and behavioral neurobiology.