Doing Time: Neuroscience and Custodial Sentencing

Armin Alimardani1, Nicole Vincent2
1University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2Honorary Fellow, Department of Philosophy, Sydney, NSW

Time flies when we’re having fun or while we’re engrossed in doing things, and when we’re not doing either of these things time can drag on really slowly. On top of what we’re doing, our subjective experience of the rate at which time passes is also affected by individual differences between people’s brains. Till recently, there was no reliable way of measuring such differences in subjective experience of the passage of time. However, in the future neuroscientific diagnostic techniques may enable us to reliably measure how different people experience the passage of time. Once this is possible, should sentencing judges in criminal trials adjust the length of custodial sentences so that offenders for whom time drags (or flies) serve shorter (or longer) sentences (respectively), to ensure that everyone who committed an equally serious offence receives an equally severe punishment? Since time spent behind bars is indeed one of the main determinants of the severity of punishment in custodial sentencing, but yet the experience of time is something that differs from person to person and even within the same person across different points in time, we will argue that variations in how offenders experience the passage of time should be considered by sentencing judges. However, on our account the right way to take such inter-subjective differences in time perception into account is not by adjusting the lengths of custodial sentences, but by using neuro-interventions to equalise how offenders perceive the passage of time. Problems with doing this will also be discussed.


Armin is a Ph.D. candidate in law at UNSW, Australia, and he is conducting an empirical study of the use of neuroscience in sentencing in Australian Criminal Courts. He completed his Master of Criminal Law and Criminology in Iran. His thesis focused on the relationship between genetics and criminal law and published it as a book titled ‘Genetics and Crime’. He was elected as the author of the distinguished Persian book of the year in students’ category by ‫Iranian Students Booking Agency‬‬. ‬In 2016, Armin joined the Australian Neurolaw Database on analysing cases in the Australian courts that involve neuroscience.


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