The possibility of brain damage leading to criminal activity is an intriguing idea. The concept has long been the subject of debate in courtrooms where defense attorneys attempt to use past brain injuries as a line of defense for their clients on trial. Can brain damage actually increase your likelihood of committing a crime?
Multiple studies say yes—traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can, in fact, lead to aggressive behaviors and even violent crimes in individuals. While TBI certainly offers no guarantee that someone will turn to criminal activity, the sheer numbers of convicted criminals with TBI make the connection too strong to ignore.
How Do Brain Injuries Increase the Risk of Criminal Behavior?
Since the brain governs so many of our functions, we can’t broadly state that all brain damage makes a person more susceptible to crime. It has more to do with which parts of the brain are affected by the damage. Certain types of brain damage make people more likely to do things they wouldn’t normally do otherwise. One of the most common is “frontal lobe syndrome” (often caused by head trauma to the front part of the head). The frontal lobe contains the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which (among other things) helps us make decisions by understanding cause-and-effect. When we can’t anticipate the results of our actions, we’re more likely to make bad decisions. This may be why some criminals seem like they have no remorse about what they’ve done and show little empathy for their victims.
Other areas of the brain that may affect our moral choices include the temporal lobe (controlling memory and emotion), the amygdala (affecting how we respond to fear), and the nucleus accumbens (the motivation and reward center of the brain). Damage to any of these areas could have a significant effect on a person’s understanding of moral choices. Research suggests that a TBI in one part of the brain could affect other brain centers within that network.
Treatment versus Punishment
What does this mean for you if you’ve had a brain injury and are accused of a crime? Could it mean that you had no control over your actions—and does this mean you shouldn’t be convicted of the crime?
It’s more complicated than that, but depending on the nature of a brain injury, some strong arguments point to rehabilitation rather than punishment. Criminal behavior may be involuntary, but it’s still criminal behavior. A brain injury does not automatically provide an excuse for every criminal act committed by someone who has suffered a TBI—but it could provide insight into why the crime was committed and what might be done to prevent future occurrences.
At the very least, your brain injury may need to be taken into account and may affect the outcome of your case. If you’re facing criminal charges in Illinois, contact Razumich & Associates online, or call us at (317) 449-8658 today to ensure your rights are protected.