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Opportunities, threats and limitations of neuroscience data in forensic psychiatric evaluation

Casartelli, Lucaa,b; Chiamulera, Cristianoc

doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32836342e1

Purpose of review In the last decade, a number of studies have been published to shed light on the interaction between neuroscience and the law, notably on the introduction of neuroscience data in forensic psychiatric evaluation (FPE). Even if there is a growing consensus on the relevance of neuroscience in clinical practice, the role of neuroscience in FPE is still controversial.

Recent findings The use of neuroscience data in FPE can support the detection of psychopathological disabilities (e.g. deficit of self-control, aggressiveness) that may be involved in criminal action. Traumatic brain injury-related clinical disorders that may lead to misconduct have a relevant role in the debate. Traditionally, literature refers also to rare and weird cases in which brain tumours, infections and morphological abnormalities were supposed to be significantly associated with disorders leading to criminal action.

Summary After reviewing recent literature from both legal and neuroscientific perspectives, we consider a broader range of clinical conditions (e.g. disorders of consciousness in sleepwalking, dopamine replacement therapy in Parkinson's disease, misattributions of self in delusional experience) that may have implications in legal settings. Obviously, it would be possible to consider also different clinical conditions. We conclude by suggesting further experimental and theoretical analysis.

aInstitute for Biomedical Ethics, Geneva University Medical School, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

bChild Psychopathology Unit, Scientific Institute, IRCCS Eugenio Medea, Bosisio Parini, Lecco

cNeuroPsiLab, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Verona, Verona, Italy

Correspondence to Luca Casartelli, Institute for Biomedical Ethics, Geneva University Medical School, CMU (Centre Médical Universitaire) – IEB/1, Rue Michel Servet, CP 1211, Genève 4, Switzerland. Tel: +41 787 099 020; fax: +41 22 379 46 19; e-mail:

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