Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Kandee Weyland at her original sentencing hearing in 2018 — Image Source: Oxygen

After a trial court denied defendant Kandee Weyland’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea despite expert witness testimony stating that “[Weyland] suffers from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder,” Weyland appealed her conviction to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine on September 15, 2020.

In February 2017, Weyland, aged 46, was charged with the murder of her ex-husband after she stabbed him to death in Acton, Maine. On August 27, 2018, Weyland entered an unconditional guilty plea to the murder charge. On October 26, 2018, before her sentencing, Weyland filed a motion to the court to withdraw her guilty plea. She asserted that “she had not taken her prescribed medication on the day of the [hearing] and that she has limited cognitive capacity.” …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: An example of a DTI scan of an adult brain. The colors show the white matter fiber tracts of the brain. Image Source: Zeynep Saygin, MIT McGovern Institute

After a neuroscientist opined that a plaintiff’s diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans were consistent with evidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), the defense filed a motion to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana to exclude the expert testimony. The defense argued first that the evidence “[would] confuse and mislead the jury,” and second that the doctor’s testimony regarding the DTI findings “fails the standards for expert testimony.” …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Aldo Dunphe during his 2016 trial — Image Source: Telegram

In October 2020, after hearing evidence of the effect of schizophrenia and psychosis on his mental state at the time of the crime, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts vacated Aldo Dunphe’s 2016 conviction for a murder he committed in the midst of a psychotic episode during his stay at a psychiatric hospital.

On November 1, 2013, 23-year-old Dunphe was voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric ward in Worchester, MA after suffering from a severe psychotic episode the night prior. On November 5, 2013, Dunphe violently attacked a fellow patient in the psychiatric ward who, several days later, died from his injuries. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Washington State Penitentiary — Image Source: New York Times

After defendant Jaarso Ahmed Abdi’s petition for post-conviction relief was denied in July 2017, he filed a personal restraint petition challenging his 152-month prison sentence on the grounds that his counsel was ineffective by failing to present mitigating evidence related to Abdi’s youth and brain development during his initial sentencing.

In March 2015, Abdi, aged 23, was convicted of attempted first degree robbery and first degree unlawful possession of a firearm in Washington State and was sentenced to 152 months in prison. In December 2019, Abdi filed a personal restraint petition for his sentence, contending that his counsel failed to present mitigating evidence related to his youth and brain development. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: An image of an MRI scan of a healthy frontal lobe — Image Source: Psych Scene Hub

Keith Brown pled guilty to second-degree murder when he was 16 years old. Thirty-two years later, with MRI evidence suggesting brain damage to his frontal lobe, Brown filed a request for coram nobis relief to vacate his murder conviction which was denied first by the trial court in 2019, and again by the California Court of Appeal Second District on July 30, 2020.

In 1987, after Brown entered his guilty plea, the California trial court sentenced him to 17 years in prison. 32 years later, in 2019, Brown filed a motion for coram nobis relief, asking the trial court to vacate his conviction due to new evidence related to Brown’s cognitive state at the time he entered his guilty plea. In 2015, four years prior to Brown filing his motion, a psychologist diagnosed Brown with schizophrenia and said that Brown had likely had the disorder since he was 10 years old. Additionally, the psychologist noted that Brown had potential brain damage in his frontal lobe which was noted during a 2013 MRI scan. In his motion, Brown claimed that he was “unaware of his ‘mental defect’ when he entered his guilty plea to the murder charge and this ‘insanity’ at the time prevented him from mounting an insanity defense.” …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Jacob Kirkendall — Image Source: The Californian

In December 2017, Jacob Kirkendall was charged with attempted murder after open firing on a Big Sur firefighter in Big Sur, California, and was facing a potential life sentence for his crimes. Kirkendall’s defense rested primarily on the fact that Kirkendall suffered from severe brain damage; Kirkendall was involved in an electrocution accident several years prior to his offense, during which his counsel stated that “the electric current burned areas of [Kirkendall’s brain].” According to his counsel, the accident caused Kirkendall permanent brain damage to the areas of his brain responsible for judgement. More so, his defense argued that during the time of the shooting, Kirkendall was “having a manic episode and a mental breakdown.” In February 2019, Kirkendall entered a plea deal. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Roberto Haynie — Image Source: NOVJM

In an appeal that made significant reference to adolescent brain science, on September 25, 2020, the Appellate Court of Illinois First District vacated Roberto Haynie’s 60-year prison sentence and remanded his case to the lower court for a “new sentencing hearing that complies with Miller and Holman.”

In 2000, Haynie was convicted of first-degree murder in Chicago and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He was 16 years old at the time of his offense. On appeal, Haynie argued that his sentence was a de facto life sentence, and thus in violation of Miller, a U.S. Supreme Court case which held that mandatory sentencing of juvenile homicide offenders (under the age of 18 at the time of his/her offense) to life sentences without parole is in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In a previous court case, People v. Buffer, the Illinois Supreme Court had ruled that “[i]n determining when a juvenile defendant’s prison term is long enough to be considered de facto life without parole, we choose to draw a line at 40 years.” Therefore, Haynie argued that 60-year sentence was in fact a de facto sentence. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Anthony Kirkland — Image Source: Local12

On August 18, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld defendant Anthony Kirkland’s death sentence after the court ruled that despite Kirkland’s primary mitigating factors cited in his appeal — which included evidence of brain damage and trauma — the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors of his case.

Kirkland was convicted of murdering two teenaged girls and two other women between 2006 and 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio and was sentenced to death for his crimes. Kirkland was 37 years old at the time he committed the first murder. Kirkland, now 52 years old, appealed his sentence most recently to the Supreme Court of Ohio on 11 different grounds, one of which was that the mitigating factors in his case — specifically those related to his cognitive state and his multiple traumatic brain injuries– outweighed the aggravating factors, and that because of these mitigating factors, his death sentence should be reduced to sentences of life without parole. …


Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Above: Defendant Freddie Owens — Image source: Greenville Journal

In 1999, Owens was convicted of murdering a woman during an armed robbery in South Carolina when he was 20 years old. He was sentenced to death for his crimes. In 2016, Owens had extensive brain imaging done (MRI and PET), and the doctor who conducted that scans concluded that “the neuroimaging showed ‘abnormalities indicating brain damage’ in regions of the brain ‘important for regulating emotions and behavior’” and additionally suggested that Owens’s frontal lobe was “unable to do its job and act as the brakes on the primitive emotional impulses’ emanating from his ‘hyper-activated’ amygdala.” In Owens’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in December 2019, Owens argued that his counsel failed to obtain this “comprehensive neuroimaging evaluation” that showed “evidence of structural and functional brain damage,” which Owens contends should have been used as mitigating evidence during his sentencing. As a result, Owens argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel which would be in violation of his rights under the 6th amendment of the U.S. …


Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

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Image Source: Discover Magazine

This post is part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

In this edition — Selected neurolaw cases from July 2020-September…

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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