: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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60 Minutes on Eyewitness Testimony and the Case of Ronald Cotton

Leslie Stall had a great piece on Ronald Cotton case in 60 Minutes, following the path of his wrongful conviction and the steps it took for a woman to identify the wrong man as her rapist. Elizabeth Loftus, who is well known for her research on memory, particularly as it applies to criminal law, appears in the second half. The full episode is embedded below.

60 Minutes, Part 1

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Part II

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Upcoming Conference: The Free Market Mindset: History, Psychology, and Consequences

Harvard Law is hosting their Third Conference on Law and Mind Sciences on March 7, 2009, with a very interesting topic: “The Free Market Mindset: History, Psychology, and Consequences.” It’s hard not to feel that Milton Friedman has done his work well and in some significant way we are free marketers in the same way that ‘we are all textualists now’.

At this year’s conference, leading social scientists and legal scholars will present and discuss their research regarding the historical origins, psychological antecedents, and policy consequences of the free market ideology that has dominated legal discourse and lawmaking the last few decades.

My only qualm is that it refers to “THE free market ideology” rather than the many variations of free market thought that should be accounted for such a discussion. Strawmen beware.

Some of the 2009 Conference Materials may provide a glimpse of what to expect.

Video from past conferences are available on the ever-stimulating Situationist Blog

Cognition, Law, Stories

Lorie Graham and Stephen McJohn’s Cognition, Law, Stories unpacks the linguistic concepts of Steven Pinker’s Stuff of Thought into a legal context. Or at least it begins to. Although they recognize – “Cognitive science will play an increasing role in the law, from litigation to refinement of doctrine to legal theory to legal education” – it leaves it the application a rather open question. Hopefully others will take them up on it.

For instance:

People do readily use complex concepts as fluidly as simple ones. But that arises through “chunking.” Once someone has learned a more complex concept, it can be treated as a single chunk, and readily used. We use “buy” as easily as “give” because it has become a single, chunked concept. Here, as throughout the book, the discussion of cognition lends itself quickly to law. Law school, in large part, consists of assembling chunked concepts. A tort, like battery, is composed of several elements, each of which breaks down into sub-elements. After enough practice, students and lawyers use “battery” as fluidly as “give.”

Consciousness of chunking would seem necessary whether you’re practicing in a courtroom, boardroom or classroom. Natural communicators recognize the elements necessary to convey understanding and build with these intuitively. For others, their existing understanding of complex concepts might block their ability to perceive potential confusion or fall back on clumsy analogies that are simplistic rather than simple.

The paper is being published in the upcoming issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology.

Molecule Identification Technique Promises to Identify Presence of Drugs, Explosives in Fingerprints

International Herald Tribune’s Fingerprint test tells much more than identity portrays a future with tools CSI has never dreamed of. Desorption Electrospray Ionization, or “Desi” uses mass spectrometry to identify molecules at a previously unheard of level of specificity.

In Cooks’ method, a tiny spray of electrically charged liquid – either water or water and alcohol – is sprayed on a tiny bit of the fingerprint. The droplets dissolve compounds in the fingerprints and splashes them off the surface into the analyzer. The liquid evaporates, and the electrical charge is transferred to the fingerprint molecules, which are then identified through mass spectrometry.

Although most of the ultimate goals of the product lay in medicine, researchers are targeting crime scene forensics as an early market.

Because the spatial resolution is on the order of the width of a human hair, the Desi technique did not just detect the presence of, for instance, cocaine on the surface, but literally showed a pattern of cocaine in the shape of the fingerprint, leaving no doubt who had left the cocaine behind.

The ability to make such strong but ultimately ambiguous inference – possession of a molecular amount of contraband doesn’t say much of anything about knowing or intentional possession, for instance and the costs of implementing the equipment and training investigators and trial experts for its actual use in cases may mean it won’t be seen in courtrooms any time soon. Still the potential is mind boggling.

Neuroscience and the Law Conference on Video

Via Grits I notice that video from the proceedings of the excellent Neuroscience and the Law Conference I attended in May at Baylor College of Medicine is now available on the web. Dr. David Eagleman, who directs the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law also conducts a seminar on neuroscience and the law and will no doubt have more in the near future.

Introductory Remarks – Dr. Michael Friedlander, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Neuroscience and Law – Dr. David Eagleman, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Neuroscience: Witness on the Stand – Dr. J. Ray Hays, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

The Biology of Behavior: Lessons from Genetics – Dr. Amy McGuire, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Capacity to Consent: Lessons from Traumatic Brain Injury – Dr. Joseph Kass, JD, MD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Memory Fingerprinting and the Risks of Undue Prejudice – Daniel Goldberg, JD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Brain Death: A Current View of the Law, Science, and Ethics – Dr. Amir Halevy, MD, JD [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Manipulating Hormones to Change Criminal Behavior: Lessons from Castration – William Winsdale, JD, PhD [Neuroscience and Law Con from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

Panel Discussion [Neuroscience and Law Conference 2008] from Initiative for Neuroscience&Law on Vimeo.

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