Conley to Train State Appellate Judges on the Application of Social and Behavioral Sciences to Contemporary Legal Questions

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John Conley

On December 15 at the North Carolina Judicial Center in Raleigh, John Conley, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Law, will co-present a session to North Carolina appellate judges entitled “Behavioral Science and the Law: A Critical Assessment of Recent Developments”. The session is part of a program called “Appellate Training: New & Emerging Legal Issues” organized by the UNC School of Government.

The session will assist appellate judges in critically evaluating the application of current developments in the social and behavioral sciences (including neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics) to contemporary legal questions. Among the specific topics that will be covered are: the use and misuse of neuroscience in determining criminal responsibility; the science of lie detection; the role of culture in determining an individual’s actions; and the use of linguistic evidence to assess whether jurors are properly carrying out their duties.

“This past summer, in a murder case called State v. McGrady, the North Carolina Supreme Court finally adopted the federal ‘Daubert’ standard for the admission of scientific and expert evidence. At the same time, courts around the country are seeing a flood of new kinds of evidence from neuroscience and other behavioral sciences,” says Conley. “North Carolina judges face the daunting task of assessing new kinds of scientific evidence under an unfamiliar legal standard. We hope that this program can give them some basic principles for distinguishing reliable science from unreliable pseudo-science.”

Conley’s research has applied the methods of anthropology, linguistics, and social psychology to such issues as juror decision-making and lay people’s understandings of the law and the legal process. He also writes and speaks on general questions of scientific evidence and is the author, with co-presenter Jane Campbell Moriarty, of Scientific and Expert Evidence. He taught for many years in the University of Virginia’s LL.M. program for judges, and directed several week-long programs for judges at Duke Law School on scientific evidence.

In addition to Conley, his co- presenters also bring extensive academic and practical experience related to the topics covered in the session.

Jane Campbell Moriarty is Carol Los Mansmann Chair in Faculty Scholarship and Professor of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law. She has written extensively on the role of neuroscience and law, expert and scientific evidence, and judicial decision-making. Her latest article, "Seeing Voices:  Potential Neuroscience Contributions to a Reconstruction of Legal Insanity," in the Fordham Law Review, explores the potential for neuroscience to provide better, brain-based proof of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. She is also writing a new book, Are You Lying Now? Neurotechnology and Law, about neuroscience lie detection, for NYU Press.

Robin Conley Riner is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Marshall University. Her recent book, Confronting the Death Penalty, published by Oxford University Press (2015), uses innovative linguistic methods to understand how capital jurors respond to the obligations imposed on them by their instructions. She also uses anthropology and linguistics to explore the broader question of how jurors balance their specific legal duties and the emotional connections that they sometimes make with the defendants, victims, and witnesses whom they encounter in the courtroom. She speaks regularly on her research to legal, judicial, and social science audiences.

-December 14, 2016

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