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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as a Criminal Defense


As scientists and doctors learn more about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease mainly found in athletes (especially football players) who have a history of repetitive brain trauma (i.e. concussions), our criminal justice system has to look at the impacts this disease has on behavior and what role it plays in criminal defense as well. In particular, a recent New York Times article examines to what extent CTE is a defense for murder in light of the case of Aaron Hernandez, the former tight end for the New England Patriots and convicted murderer who recently committed suicide in prison at the age of 27.

The Case of Aaron Hernandez 

Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first degree murder in 2015. However, if he were tried today, he would likely be able to assert the insanity defense, successfully arguing that he suffered a mental defect which rendered him substantially unable to confirm his conduct to what the law requires. CTE could, without a doubt, created the necessary reasonable doubt necessary to avoid a first-degree murder conviction.

Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed through postmortem examination of the brain tissue, and thus cannot be confirmed as a medical issue while the individual is still alive. This presents a challenge in terms of definitively relying on it as a criminal defense, although there are obvious signs that someone is suffering from CTE after experiencing repetitive brain trauma if they have especially uncontrollable mood swings and lack impulse control.

The Inevitability of CTE for Football Players 

In a recent study conducted by Boston University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that all except one of 111 brains of deceased NFL players tested had CTE.

Thus, it perhaps comes as no surprise that football players are disproportionately charged with crimes of violence compared to the general population and even other athletes. One explanation might very well be CTE: the scientific evidence is clear that it robs these players of the “ability to handle disputes rationally.” To many, it equates to insanity.

The Very Best In Criminal Defense 

Individuals who suffer from CTE arguably shouldn’t be in prisons; they should be in hospitals receiving care for brain injuries.

There is so much we still do not know about the human brain, but when it comes to convicting an individual of murder, it is so crucial that we understand all of the factors that were involved in the surrounding circumstances, especially when it comes to understanding mental and medical illnesses and how they force individuals to behave in a particular way.

These latest studies pave the way for criminal defense attorneys to demonstrate to jurors why defendants who suffer from CTE truly do not have the control necessary to exercise rational judgment and control their impulses.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime and suffer from a mental illness, it is crucial that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney in ensuring that every important factor is considered in your defense.

At The Baez Law Firm, we offer top skilled legal advocacy for our Florida and Massachusetts clients. Contact us today to find out more.


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