Using a fictional crime — a convenience store robbery that goes horribly wrong — this two-part program builds a gripping courtroom drama. The program probes the brains of the major participants —defendant, witnesses, jurors, judge — while Alan Alda visits neuroscientists who explore how brains work when they become entangled with the law. The research poses a controversial question: How does our rapidly expanding ability to peer into people’s minds and decode their thoughts and feelings affect trials like this one? Should it?
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Wednesday, September 11 at
On trial is Jimmy Moran, who at 18 took part in a store robbery during which the storeowner’s wife was shot and grievously injured. Presiding is distinguished U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who has a longstanding interest in neuroscience and its conceivable effect on criminal law. The trial raises common questions: Is a witness lying? How reliable is eyewitness testimony? What’s the best way to avoid a biased jury? How well can the defendant’s intentions be judged? Alan Alda explores how brain-scanning technology is providing insights into these questions and discusses the implications of neuroscience entering the courtroom.
Wednesday, September 18 at
Jimmy Moran is found guilty of badly injuring a woman during a robbery. In the sentencing phase of the trial, Judge Rakoff hears arguments from the court-appointed psychiatrist, the attorneys, the victim’s husband and Jimmy himself. Meanwhile, Alan Alda discovers how neuroscience is already influencing the sentencing of defendants — especially young defendants — by revealing how the immature teenage brain is vulnerable to foolish and impulsive acts. Before Judge Rakoff pronounces Jimmy’s sentence, Alda meets a judge who has volunteered to have his own brain probed as he makes sentencing decisions.