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Brains on Trial with Alan Alda

Brains on Trial with Alan Alda

  • Premiered: 
    September 11, 2013
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: PBS
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
  • Subject Matter:
  • Tags: science

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Plot Synopsis

BRAINS ON TRIAL is a two-part program during which host Alan Alda visits with scientists, judges, and lawyers, who evaluate and analyze a mock trial about a fictitious crime, exploring how neuroscience can potentially make the criminal justice system more just. On trial is Jimmy Moran, who, when he was 18, participated in a store robbery during which the storeowner's wife was shot and grievously injured. Presiding over this case, which uses real practicing attorneys, is distinguished U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who has a longstanding interest in neuroscience and its conceivable effect on criminal law. The first hour covers the trial's guilt phase, conducted before a jury, and concludes with the defendant being found guilty of felony murder. In the program's second hour, BRAINS ON TRIAL looks at the sentencing phase, when arguments for and against a severe sentence are heard. As the trial unfolds, Alda is accompanied by Vanderbilt University law professor Nita Farahany who interprets the legal issues being raised in the trial and how neuroscience principles are relevant to the trial. Plus, Alda visits with neuroscientists whose research has already influenced some Supreme Court decisions, showing how functional MRIs and other brain-scanning techniques are exploring lie detection, facial recognition, memory decoding, racial bias, brain maturity, intention, and even emotions. The research Alda discovers is at the center of a controversy as to how this rapidly expanding ability to peer into people's minds and decode their thoughts and feelings could -- or should -- affect trials.


Production & Distribution

  • Produced by The Chedd-Angier Production Company