Knowledge of Neuroscience Practices Can Help Lawyers Better Advocate for Clients
“There is a huge difference in how doctors and lawyers think about mental states,” said Dr. Tracy Gunter, an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine, who teaches Neuroscience and Law as an adjunct professor at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The number of cases involving neuroscientific evidence doubled from 2006-2009 and in 2012 fMRI was introduced for the first time in an Illinois court, she said. Dr. Gunter believes that increasing legal interest in neuroscience may be driven, in part, by the idea that it offers the promise of making previously unseen mental states visible.
Dr. Gunter’s Neuroscience and Law course examines how cutting-edge practices in neuroscience may be applied to legal cases involving adolescents, addictions, pain, violence, lie detection, and other matters. She hopes her course teaches law students how to approach neuroscientific evidence, when to seek out an expert, and then how to use that expert’s knowledge to better advocate for their clients.
Dr. Gunter is board certified in general adult and forensic psychiatry. Her research interests include gene-environment interactions in behavioral illness, implications of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and the interface of neuroscience and law. Most recently she served as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry in Law at St. Louis University School of Medicine, where she taught Forensic Psychiatry and Law in the law school there. Prior to that, she was Director of Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Iowa and a consultant for the Iowa Department of Corrections. Dr. Gunter has conducted over 1000 forensic mental health evaluations and been qualified as an expert witness in several jurisdictions.
She says she is passionate about teaching and is deeply committed to interdisciplinary research and clinical education across the IU campus. She said she admits that it must be a leap of faith for law students to look to a physician to guide them through a course in the law school, but “once students understand that we are in this together, not only here in law school but also subsequently in practice, things seem to go swimmingly.”