American Bar Association Journal editor Davis (Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago's Cook County Public Defender's Office, 2007, etc.) engagingly explores how sophisticated brain studies might help explain the causes of violent crimes.
The author uses an unlikely New York City murder as the connecting link in his wide-ranging inquiry into “broken brains” that might leave criminals helpless to control violent urges. On Jan. 7, 1991, 65-year-old Herbert Weinstein, a mild-mannered, respected business executive with “a clean record and no history of violent behavior,” argued with his wife before knocking her unconscious and throwing her out of their apartment window to the street 12 stories below. Though Weinstein confessed to the homicide, he could not account for his uncharacteristic rage. His lawyer decided to order scans of Weinstein’s brain, a revolutionary tactic at the time; the scans showed a cyst the size of an orange. At that juncture, Weinstein’s lawyer, the prosecutor, the judge, and highly specialized neuroscientists had to decide whether the cyst provided a complete explanation for the murder, only a partial explanation, or was simply an extraneous factor. As the well-written narrative unfolds, Davis returns to the Weinstein case frequently. Amid the chapters about the murder, the author skillfully interweaves accounts of other alleged “broken brain” cases, research battles among neuroscientists about how to interpret brain injury data, and inquiries into specific types of brain damage—for instance, from football and other contact sports or from military combat. Perhaps the most crucial question revolving around broken brain research is whether the injuries invalidate free will. Could Weinstein have controlled his rage during the altercation with his wife, or did the damage to Weinstein’s capacities from the cyst render him unable to exercise free will?
A thoroughly researched, clearly presented book that suggests that imprecise brain science will become increasingly more common as evidence in criminal cases.