One of the central concepts embedded in the criminal justice system is the concept of “Free will”. The assumption of an autonomous being inside each of us, who rationally determines the consequences and choices available to make the best possible decision. But it is also true that we are a biological organism and our behavior is influenced by Non-metaphysical forces like genes, blood glucose level, hormones, influences during the fetal development, and evolutionary biological pressures. Furthermore, our social behavior is also determined by the culture we are part of. The social and biological factors influencing our behavior are deeply inter-twined with each other.
The criminal justice system has subtracted the role of the autonomous free will in adjudicating crimes , for example when someone under tremendous duress of harm from another human being acts in self defense by harming the other person, the system assumes the role of will in action within a limited sphere and also primacy is given to the preservation of human body or if a person goes through a epileptic seizure while driving a car and harms the pedestrians, we no longer attribute the harmful action to the free will to the driver but to a biological cause, i.e we blame the epilepsy not the person. Five hundred years ago, the concept of epilepsy was unheard of and the immediate social judgment is drawn that the person is possessed by a demon. The knowledge of the role of biology in human behavior has grown tremendously over centuries. The subject of neurobiology, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, neuropsychiatry has generated knowledge which has implications for the administration of the penal system.
Robert sapolsky , the world renowned neuroscientist and primatologist argues
“We are only a first few baby steps into understanding any of this, so few that it leaves huge, unexplained that perfectly smart people fill it with homunculus (free will). Nevertheless, even the staunchest believers in free will must admit that it is hemmed into tighter spaces than in the past. Its less than two centuries since science taught us that the frontal cortex has something to do with appropriate behavior. Less than seventy years since we learned that schizophrenia is a biochemical disorder. Perhaps fifty years since we learned that reading problems of a type that now we call dyslexia aren’t due to laziness but instead involve microscopic cortical malformations. Twenty five since we learned that epigenetics alter behavior…if there really is free will, its getting consigned to domains too mundane to be worth the effort to want- do I want briefs or boxer shorts today.
Archeologists do something impressive, reflecting disciplinary humility. When archeologists excavate a site, they recognize that future archeologists will be horrified at their primitive techniques, at the destructives of their excavating. Thus they often leave most of a site untouched to await their more skilful disciplinary descendants. For example, astonishingly, more than forty years after excavations began, less than 1 percent of the famed Qin dynasty terra-cotta army in china has been uncovered.
Those adjudicating trials don’t have the luxury of adjourning for a century until we really understand the biology of behavior. But at the very least the system needs the humility of archeology, a sense that, above all else, we shouldn’t act irrevocably. “
The knowledge that there are things we know that we don’t know and that we don’t know that we don’t know about the biology of free will or free will actually exists at all has radical implications for the legal system. But as far as history says, law is a conservative discipline and sometimes it is the last system to catch up to the changing times.
An intellectually promiscuous student of law and several other things from National Law University Odisha.
– Maxwin Rayen