Neuroscience and the Law (NSCI0100)

Fall - October 17–December 20, 2020
Days & Time:
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Florina Altshiler

One year of high school biology.

Course Description

In this course we look at how the brain functions, what the legal issues are, how the technologies that attempt to understand and address brain functioning work, and why this is pertinent to the legal system. Participants learn how to deal with the rising tide of neuroscientific information being proffered in litigation and in the legal policy context. They see how research studies are used in contexts outside the laboratory and are challenged to critically assess and evaluate not only the scientific principles but also their legal and ethical implications.

The course focuses on brain functioning as it influences behavior and responsibility principles. The legal principle of culpable conduct and its implications are addressed, and appropriate penalties and punishment for criminal conduct are discussed. Students are asked to address fundamental questions about what it means to be morally and legally responsible, and what, if anything, neuroscience can provide to our assessments of individual responsibility for actions.

Discussions transition from case-specific inquiries to first principles, namely: How do the separate domains of law, science, and behavior relate to one another? What are the purposes and roles of law in society? How may science help or hinder those purposes? And what can science tell us about behavior that might be legally relevant, and how?

Some of the topics that may be addressed include the Frye and Daubert standards for the admissibility of expert testimony, objective assessments of subjective complaints of pain, inaccurate eyewitness testimony, cross-racial witness identification, applicable jury instructions employing principles of science, memory and emotion, lie detection, adolescent brain function and implications for sentencing and criminal liability, addiction, artificial intelligence, and cognitive enhancements.

The course requires reading and active class participation; it is taught in a law school format, using the Socratic method. The course includes asynchronous work, which students are expected to complete between class sessions.

NSCI0100 | Call Number: 22320 | View this listing on the Directory of Courses


Florina Altshiler

Florina Altshiler is the lead trial attorney and a partner with the Buffalo, NY office of Russo & Toner LLP, where she specializes in the defense of large loss casualty matters. Her practice also includes medical malpractice, construction liability, general negligence law and criminal defense. She also serves as an Elite Defender Force member, representing indigent defendants in felony level offenses, for the Assigned Counsel Program of Western NY.

Ms. Altshiler offers legal commentary throughout the country and has been quoted by the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports and the NY Post. She is published in the New York Law Journal and the Buffalo Law Journal. She appears regularly on the ABC affiliate-WKBW, Channel 7, to offer legal commentary on the evening news. She has also appeared on CNN, the NBC affiliate-WGRZ, Channel 2, CBS affiliate News 8 Rochester, and Time Warner Cable News. She is routinely quoted by the Buffalo News and has been interviewed by Dr. Drew for KABC Los Angeles.

Ms. Altshiler served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alaska, where she successfully prosecuted dozens of cases through jury verdict, including violent felonies and sexual assault. During her time in the Special Assaults Unit, she focused on felony-level crime, including homicides. She also served as the coach to the West Anchorage High School Mock Trial team, bringing them to the National tournament two years in a row, and as a legal advisor to the Anchorage Youth Court.

Ms. Altshiler has served as an adjunct professor of trial advocacy, both civil and criminal, at St. John's School of Law, where she was a Rosenberg Scholar and an Institutional Merit Scholar. She has received the Dr. Thomas C. Beneventano Award for Legal Medicine and an Excellence for the Future Award in Criminal Trial Advocacy, as well as the U.S. President's Student Service Award for Outstanding Service to America and United Hospital Fund's Student Achievement Award. She was featured as Lawline’s Top 20 Female Faculty in 2016 and 2019. In addition to her instructor role at Columbia, she currently teaches at Buffalo State College and Daemen College. Her courses include trial advocacy, legal research and writing, torts, neuroscience and the law and the law of race, class, politics and power.

Ms. Altshiler’s experience includes over a decade of litigation: criminal prosecution; civil defense and plaintiffs' side; the defense of complex medical malpractice cases and all aspects of insurance claims, including premises liability and automobile and construction accident litigation. Additionally, she has served as a judge at national and state level mock trial competitions for high schools, colleges, and law schools. She continues to serve as an arbitrator for the Civil Court of the City of New York and is also a Certified Federal Mediator for the Western District of NY, a panel Arbitrator and a Hearing Officer for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. She also teaches Continuing Legal Education courses for practicing attorneys through NITA, the Defense Research Institute, the Erie County Bar Association, ClearLaw, Lawline, Defense Trial Lawyers Association and the NYS Women’s Bar Association on topics including criminal and civil litigation and trial technique.

Ms. Altshiler is a State Director for the Western NY Chapter of the Womens Bar Association, a Steering Committee member for the Harpur Law Council of Binghamton University and a former Board Member for Crisis Services, Journeys End Refugee Services and New York Legal Assistance Group.

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Specific course details such as topics, activities, hours, and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.