Will Neuroscience and Law Collide?

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes, a recent neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, opened fire inside a movie theater in Aurora, killing 12 people and injuring more than 70 others. Holmes had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was clearly psychotic. At his trial, however, the prosecuting attorney argued that the shooting was meticulous and premeditated, using as proof the fact that Holmes had booby-trapped his apartment. Eleven of the 12 jurors voted for the death penalty, arguing that he had acted rationally. Holmes successfully entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, however, and was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences plus 3,318 years without parole. The case illustrates some of the most difficult issues that have emerged in modern bioethics: Are people with mental…

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