Research has shown that sustaining a traumatic brain injury could dramatically increase your likelihood of engaging in illegal behaviors and facing criminal charges. In fact, some people are more than 50% more likely to commit a crime after a traumatic brain injury than they were prior to sustaining that injury. This is because it takes the ability to reason effectively to avoid some criminal behaviors. With a traumatic brain injury, a person is more likely to be misled by others into cooperating in criminal activities. The person is also more likely to take an argument too far or to behave excessively when disciplining a child, for example.
Research from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in 2015 observed how those who have endured a traumatic brain injury in the past are less capable of evaluating their circumstances and deciding on the best approach to things like discipline for children and disagreements with adults. TBI victims were more likely to use violence or make poor decisions.
Another study from 2012 looked at traumatic brain injuries in US veterans from the Vietnam War, and used imaging scans to observe specifically where in the brain the damage had occurred. They then measured how well the patients were able to make accurate judgments about various situations and how serious those situations actually were.
They compared a group of 114 veterans with TBIs to a group of 32 veterans without TBIs, and used a ranking system in which the participants of the study were asked to arrange cards depicting various situations in order, based on how serious the situations were.
What they found was that those who had TBIs to the frontal lobe of the brain had marked difficulty with judging how serious a situation was, meaning that they were likely to be at much greater risk of criminal behaviors, such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Taking it further, TBI victims could even be more likely to commit crimes like murder or to be misguided by others and convinced to engage in other criminal behaviors.
How Traumatic Brain Injuries in Children Could Lead to Adult Criminal Behavior
Another interesting point is that a traumatic brain injury does not have to be recent to impact a person’s likelihood of criminal behavior. In fact, a report from the University of Exeter in 2012 revealed that childhood traumatic brain injuries could significantly impact the development of the brain as the child matures, causing the brain to never reach full maturity or to impair the child from developing skills that mature adults need to make decisions and judge situations.
Areas of particular importance are those that allow a person to control their impulses. The child can experience problems throughout their life with impairments in making good choices as well as controlling impulsive behaviors. They may even wide up with antisocial behaviors and issues with violence in response to situations that would not typically incite violent behaviors. For instance, something that might upset a healthy person, such as a perceived insult, might enrage someone with serious brain damage, especially if that damage occurred while the brain was developing, in childhood or adolescence, and the brain never developed the ability to control such feelings or respond to such situations appropriately.
You might imagine a small child, throwing a tantrum because they are upset by something relatively minor, like not getting their way when playing a game with other children. In most children, the brain will develop correctly over time, and they are not as likely to throw such tantrums as they mature. In someone who experiences a traumatic brain injury that hinders this development, such tantrums can come in adult sizes, leading to criminal behavior.
Criminals in Custody Have a Much Higher Incidence of Brain Injury
The 2012 report that investigated the link between brain injuries and criminal behaviors found that throughout the world, there is a higher incidence of brain injury in those who are in custody than there is in the general population. There are fewer than 10% of individuals who are not in custody who suffer from brain injuries, while more than 50% of individuals in custody have experienced brain injuries. They also found that people with brain injuries tended to receive their first prison sentences as much as five years earlier (in terms of age) than those without brain injuries. They were also more likely to reoffend and end up back in prison.
What Does This Mean for Criminals with Brain Injuries?
With all of the evidence to suggest that brain injuries can lead to an increased likelihood for criminal behaviors, it is important for the criminal justice system to take such issues into account when deciding the guilt and the fate of individuals who suffer from such injuries. In the same way that the criminal justice system would take into account a person’s age and mental health when they’ve committed a crime, they should screen them for evidence of brain injuries.
It is also important for society in general, including parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, to take note of this issue and to respond early when brain injuries occur, perhaps preventing victims of brain injuries from engaging in criminal behaviors later. When someone experiences a traumatic brain injury, they should be considered to be at risk for antisocial and criminal behavior, and treatment should be provided to these individuals.
If successful, such treatment could prevent crime, provide victims of traumatic brain injuries with the life skill that they need to make better decisions, and ensure that those suffering from such injuries have the support that they need to form positive relationships. Further, those who are already in custody and suffering from the effects of brain injuries should be screened and treated in an effort to prevent them from reoffending when they are free again.
If you or a loved one happens to be facing criminal charges that you believe are related to a traumatic brain injury, contact the dedicated & skilled South Carolina criminal defense attorneys at the David Aylor Law Offices to learn more about your rights and options.