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

Above: Defendant Lester Dobbey — Image Source: Illinois Department of Corrections

On December 15, 2020, an Illinois state appellate court reversed a lower court’s denial of Lester Dobbey’s petition for leave to file a successive postconviction petition. Dobbey had been sentenced to a de facto life sentence for crimes he committed when he was 19 years old.

In 2000, Dobbey was charged with first-degree murder for the shooting of three victims, resulting in one death. He was sentenced to 51 years in prison.

In 2017 and 2018, Dobbey filed several supplements to his second postconviction petition, arguing that his sentence violated the Illinois Constitution’s proportionate penalties clause and the U.S. Constitution’s…


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

Above: Defendant Jarvis Wayne Madison — Image Source: The Daytona Beach News Journal

On December 20, 2020, Jarvis Wayne Madison, charged with capital murder, was found competent to stand trial in the United States District Court in the Middle District of Florida. Madison had objected to the recommendation in part because the government’s experts did not view his brain scans.

In 2016, Madison was charged with the abduction and killing of his estranged wife.

Madison’s competency had been the subject of several years of litigation.

For this round of evaluations, two government experts, a forensic psychologist and neuropsychologist, each evaluated Madison. They found that he “does not currently suffer from a mental disease…


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

Above: Defendant Willie Clemons, aged 41 — Image Source: 13 News Now

The Court of Appeals of Michigan affirmed a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) on December 17, 2020 for Willie Terrell Clemons, who was 15 years old at the time of his offenses.

In 1996, Clemons was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to mandatory LWOP. Following the 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama prohibiting mandatory LWOP for juveniles under age 18, a resentencing was ordered. Again, Clemons was sentenced to LWOP, but this time the sentence was discretionary.

Clemons argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by resentencing him to LWOP and…


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

Above: Pelican Bay State Prison, where Kittles is incarcerated — Image Source: Mother Jones

On December 10, 2020, in an unpublished opinion, a California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Deshun Kittles, who had contended that expert testimony regarding the fear response should have been admitted at his trial.

In 2017, Kittles shot a man several times during a confrontation. At trial, Kittles testified that “I didn’t aim to kill this person…. I shot out of fear for my life.” The state argued that Kittles did intend to kill the victim that day, but the jury found that “the attempted murder was not willful, deliberate, or premeditated.” Kittles was convicted of attempted murder…


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

Above: Defendant La Twon Weaver — Image Source: San Diego Tribune

On December 15, 2020, a United States District Court in California granted a motion filed by La Twon Weaver, who was sentenced to death in 1993 for crimes he committed at age 23, to hold federal habeas proceedings in abeyance in light of Weaver’s arguments premised on new scientific consensus on brain development in younger adults.

In 1992, Weaver killed a store owner during a robbery. He was convicted of robbery, burglary, and first-degree murder in a San Diego Superior Court, and was sentenced to death.

Weaver appealed, and his sentence was affirmed. He filed several habeas petitions in the…


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

Above: Defendant Debra Bracewell — Image Source: Star-News

On December 16, 2020, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama found that a trial court had abused its discretion by considering the fact that an individual committed murder at age 17 to be an aggravating, rather than a mitigating, factor and reversed Debra Bracewell’s sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

In 1997, when Bracewell was 17 years old, she was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to LWOP. She was resentenced to discretionary LWOP in 2017 despite the existence of Miller v. Alabama. The sentencing court explained that Miller v. Alabama prohibited LWOP for juveniles “unless…


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

Above: Texas’ Civil Commitment Center, which opened in 2015, is located in Littlefield, Texas and houses people who the court has deemed to be sexually violent predators. Image Source: Lubbock Avalanche Journal

On December 17, 2020, a Texas Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s order to commit Stephen Bordages for being a “sexually violent predator.” Bordages suffers from a brain injury, which some testifying psychologists claimed could have led to his sexually violent behavior.

The State of Texas filed a petition to civilly commit Bordages under the Sexually Violent Predators (SVP) statute. Following a trial, the commitment was ordered. Bordages appealed.

At trial, two psychologists and one psychiatrist testified.

The first psychologist, who specialized in forensic psychology and neuropsychology, determined that Bordages has a “behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to…


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

Above: California Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit — Image Source: California Courts

In an unpublished opinion issued on December 15, 2020, a California Court of Appeals affirmed a sentence of 129 years to life, without the possibility of parole, for defendant Murrel Wayne Vailes III, who was 19 years old at the time of his offenses.

Though Vailes did not physically harm anyone at any point during the offenses, he was sentenced to a de facto LWOP sentence in 2019 for robbery offenses he committed in 2017. He was sentenced under California’s “three strikes” sentencing law, which allows lengthier sentences because of repeat offenses.

Vailes argued on appeal that he should be…


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

Above: Westport Linen Services plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — Image Source: Westport Linen

On December 16, 2020, a Louisiana Court of Appeals affirmed a Workers’ Compensation Judge’s dismissal of Chad Yokum’s complaint against an insurance company and an industrial laundry service specializing in cleaning hospital linens, Westport Linen Services, LLC. Yokum filed his claims against the companies after discovering that he suffered from a brain abscess, which he claimed was caused by his work for the laundry service.

Yokum began working for Westport Linen Services in 2016. A few days after he began working there, Yokum hit his head twice on a washer door and went to the hospital for treatment. A CT…


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

Above: U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims — Image Source: Military.com

Raymond Brown, a Vietnam War veteran, suffers from a seizure disorder and has a “metallic foreign body” lodged into his scalp from a head trauma sustained while serving in the Vietnam War. Though since 1978 Brown has had disability benefits for the shrapnel wound, on October 29, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims denied Brown’s claim for benefits for his seizure disorder. This marks his third unsuccessful appeal.

In 1967, Brown’s treatment records indicated that “[he] suffered a shrapnel wound to his scalp” after which he fainted and hit his head. Brown alleges this incident marked…

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

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