Philosophy with the potential for real world impact

This Amicus Brief – filed by three law professors from University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, and Washington & Lee – discusses an article my colleagues and I wrote on neuroscience and the responsibility of child soldiers. The brief was filed with the International Criminal Court in the case of child solider Dominic Ongwen. In addition to the paper above, we discuss Ongwen’s case extensively in our book Responsible Brains.

Here is a bit of the brief (footnotes omitted):

“A foundational principle of justice is that perpetrators of criminal acts should only be punished for those acts if they are truly blameworthy or culpable. Fagan et. al. argue, like many others, that because their executive functions/prefrontal cortexes are under development well into their teenage years and their early twenties, children lack the capacity to be considered fully legally and morally responsible for their actions. Research has led to new understandings of how brain function is not only a product of biological genetics, but also is part of a dynamic new field of study documenting the way that brain circuits are actively engaged in ongoing brain development.

Executive functions “allow persons to plan actions that involve other people; to include the beliefs and feelings of others in ongoing cognition; to withhold all manner of gratification until the appropriate time and place; and to temper the expression of emotions in a socially acceptable way.” As adolescents age into adulthood, executive functions mature and full capacity develops. However, where trauma has resulted in brain impairment, there may be circumstances and psychopathologies that are worsened by prolonged periods of abuse. It is in these contexts where a presumption of adult capacity may and should be rebutted in law.”

Here’s a link to information about Ongwen’s case and ultimate sentence.

Dominic Ongwen at trial
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